Intent matters in New Jersey drunk driving charges
The recent arrest of a Tom’s River man should serve as a reminder to Cape May readers that it is never a good idea to get into one’s car after drinking, even when you do not plan on driving. The 27-year-old man was charged with drunk driving after police found him asleep in his car. After finding an open bottle of beer in the car, police concluded that the man had been drinking and took him into custody.
The man’s car was parked in the lot of a local garden center, and reports gave no indication that anyone had seen the man drive anywhere. However, the keys were in the ignition and the engine was running when police found the man. Those facts may make the critical difference in whether or not the man will ultimately be convicted of driving while intoxicated.
Under New Jersey law, a person must be found to have operated a vehicle in order to be convicted of drunk driving. The definition of operation, however, is not limited to actions that actually result in moving the vehicle along a roadway. New Jersey courts rely instead on evidence that a person intended or attempted to perform actions that would put the vehicle in motion.
For example, evidence that a person got into a car while intoxicated and attempted to start the engine may be enough to support a drunk driving conviction. On the other hand, one New Jersey resident was acquitted of drunk driving charges when he was found asleep in his car with the engine running in the parking lot of a tavern. In that case, the court concluded that there was no evidence the person intended to put the vehicle into motion.
In the case of the Tom’s River man, an experienced DUI attorney would recognize that the facts of the situation might provide a defense against charges of driving while intoxicated. Of course, the best bet is to avoid a DWI arrest in the first place by staying away from one’s car after consuming alcohol.
Source: Berkeley Patch, “Police Charge Motorist Asleep At The Wheel With Drunk Driving,” Patricia A. Miller, Oct. 13, 2012