Driving Under Influence

Driving under influence (DUI)
Driving under influence is when a driver drives while in an intoxicated or inebriated state. Even a small amount of alcohol can affect a driver’s judgment and coordination. Generally, what exacerbates the situation is the duration of time the driver has spent on drinking, whether he/she ate before or during drinking, his/her body weight and the amount of alcohol consumed. The amount of alcohol in blood is measured in “blood alcohol concentration” (BAC). In the state of New York, a driver with a BAC in excess of 0.05% is considered to have an impaired judgment and coordination. This is also called driving while ability impaired (DWAI). A driver with a BAC of 0.08% or more is considered to be intoxicated. This is also called driving while intoxicated (DWI). New York has no tolerance for impaired or intoxicated driving therefore those under 21 years of age with a BAC of 0.02% may be detained. Similarly the state of Washington also has strict DUI laws. For example, the legally allowed limit is 0.08% though if the driver is driving a commercial vehicle, the BAC is legally set at 0.04%. If the suspected driver is less than 21 years of age, the Washington law puts the percentage at 0.02%.
The following procedure may be followed by several US states for enforcement of the vehicle code:

  • Upon stopping a vehicle and apprehending that the person driving a vehicle may be under influence, a law enforcement officer may administer a field sobriety test.  A potential DUI suspect is required to walk in a straight line or stand on one leg for 30 seconds. The officer may require the use of breathalyzer.  This nifty little device allows a calculation of BAC through breath analysis.  The law also allows a blood test.  A suspected driver may refuse these tests.
  • The officer will at this point make a formal arrest and file the necessary paperwork.
  • The notice of suspension or revocation entitles a driver to request an administrative hearing from the Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) within 10 days to challenge suspension or revocation.
  • If a chemical test was undertaken either through a breathalyzer or a blood test, the law may provide for the following penalties:
    • First offence: Four month suspension of license.
    • Second offence within 10 years of the first offence:  Suspension for one year.
    • If the driver is less than 21 years of age, any chemical or preliminary alcohol testing showing a BAC of more than 0.02% will mean a suspension of one year.
  • If a chemical test, i.e. breath or blood test,  was refused, then the following penalties will come into play:
  • First offence: One year revocation of license
  • Second offence within 10 years: Two years revocation of license.
  • Third offence within 10 years: Three years revocation of license.
  • The law applies uniformly to those under 21 years of age as well.

Here it is important to distinguish between an administrative hearing and a court hearing.  The court hearing pertains to the arrest under the laws for drunk driving.  This is a criminal proceeding which will determine whether a driver was guilty of the said crime.  A driver can choose to plead guilty or not guilty.  If a driver pleads not guilty there will be a trial to determine your guilt.
An administrative hearing will consider the following issues only:

  • Did the officer have cause to believe a driver was driving his or her vehicle in violation of the aforesaid sections of the vehicle code?
  • Was the arrest lawful?
  • Did the driver exceed the legal limit for BAC?
  • In the event that the driver refused to take a chemical test, was he told that if he refused to submit to or failed to complete a chemical test, his license would be suspended for one year or revoked for two or three years and did he still refuse?

If it is determined at the DMV administrative hearing that the arrest made was unlawful, the driver may be acquitted automatically.  Similarly if the officer had no cause to believe that the driver was violating any laws, the officer’s actions are unconstitutional and illegal.

Similarly if the court acquitted a driver of the wrongdoing even after DMV administrative hearing upheld the officer’s conduct, the DMV would have to reconsider its decision and strike down its previous finding in accordance with the court’s decision.

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Q:Can the NJ court rule for driving under the influence even when the vehicle is parked and not being driven at all?

A:Yes, an NJ court will definitely find you having committed a DUI influence even when you have responsibly parked your car on the side of the road or in a parking lot. A 2007 court ruling not only found the driver of a pick-up truck of having committed a DUI when he was sleeping off his drunkenness after having parked it in the lot of a mall but also made him pay several thousand dollars in fines and legal fees.