Basics of DWI Stops

There are several important issues that can be raised that are unrelated to the level of intoxication of the defendant. The first involves the legal justification for the motor vehicle stop. Both the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 1, paragraph 7 of the New Jersey Constitution ban one type of search and seizure, one that is unreasonable. Searches and seizures that are undertaken without the authority of a judicially issued warrant are presumed to be invalid and thus unreasonable under both the State and federal constitutions. Therefore, in every drunk driving case it is the State’s responsibility to demonstrate that the police seizure of the defendant’s motor vehicle by way of a motor vehicle stop and any subsequent search of the defendant or the vehicle were reasonable. The physical evidence recovered from the search of a motor vehicle, such as drugs or beer cans, may constitute powerful direct or circumstantial evidence of guilt. The justification for the motor vehicle stop must be based on reasonable suspicion. If it is not, it may result in the suppression of all the prosecution’s evidence. After the determination that the stop is supported by reasonable suspicion, the arrest for drinking and driving must be based on probable cause. This is a warrantless arrest by a police officer which is allowed under the New Jersey drinking and driving statute, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. In essence, the probable cause determination is based on the totality of the circumstances presented to┬áthe officer and need only be objectively reasonable to be legally sustainable. When the arrest of a suspect for drinking and driving is found to be unreasonable because it was not based on probable cause, all evidence stemming from the arrest, including physical evidence seized incident to the arrest and the results of breath or blood tests may be subject to suppression. This is all based on the Fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

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