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STATE v. HENDRICKS — NEW JERSEY MURDER TRIAL — "NOT GUILTY" VERDICT

Mr. Tumelty represented Helena Hendricks, who was charged with first degree murder in Atlantic County Superior Court. The defendant faced a number of additional charges, including armed robbery, conspiracy and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. At the conclusion of a jury trial that lasted three weeks, the defendant was found "not guilty" of all charges.

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More to recent New Jersey DWI arrest than naked driver hype

Last week’s post discussed the arrest of a New Jersey State Police detective and how a person’s mental state may provide a defense against certain charges that may attach to a DWI arrest. Cape May readers who followed that discussion may take interest in another recent case that calls into question the validity of charges for breath test refusal.

According to reports from the Sparta police, a woman was taken into custody on January 18 after they received reports of a white Volkswagen Jetta crashing into a stone wall and then driving away. The story drew more than the usual media attention because the arresting officers reported that the driver, a 36-year-old woman, appeared not to realize that she was wearing nothing more than an unzipped jacket at the time she was pulled over.

The arresting officers went on to report that the woman’s speech was slurred to the point of being mostly unintelligible. She allegedly could not remember where she was going and did not recall having been in an accident. One of the officers said that the woman was not even capable of keeping her balance long enough to understand instructions for a field sobriety test.

Despite the fact that the woman may have had no ability whatsoever to comprehend the significance of failing to voluntarily provide breath test results, police charged her with breath test refusal in addition to driving while intoxicated and other related traffic violations.

This may be a case in which the mental state of the accused provides a defense against a breath test refusal charge. New Jersey courts recognize that the implied consent doctrine directly implicates individual constitutional rights and allow for a narrow exception under circumstances in which a person’s mental state makes it impossible to understand the effect of refusal upon those rights.

A person may still be convicted of breath test refusal even if it turns out that alcohol was not to blame for their behavior. With no Alcotest results yet reported in this case, a vigorous defense against the refusal charge may turn out to be particularly important.

Source: nj.com, “Drunk driver didn’t know she was naked, Sparta cops say,” Louis C. Hochman, Jan. 21, 2013

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