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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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NJ SUPREME COURT REJECTS DEFENSE TO A DWI ALCOTEST REFUSAL CHARGE

The New Jersey Supreme Court just rendered an important decision rejecting a key defense on a charge of DWI refusal to take an Alcotest during a DWI investigation. The defendant, Schmidt, was arrested for DWI and required to take a breath test (Alcotest) at the police station. He blew into the mouthpiece of the machine but did not blow long enough or hard enough to provide a sufficient breath sample. The officer told him to blow long and continuous into the machine. Two times Schmidt did not blow long enough and he gave insufficient breath samples. After his third attempt, the officer told him he was being charged with refusal to take the test.

New Jersey law states that a person arrested for suspicion of DWI must submit to a breath test at the police station. The arresting officer is required to read a standard statement prepared by the Motor Vehicle Commission that explains the defendant’s obligation to take the test and the penalties for a refusal. The standard statement also requires the officer to read an additional paragraph if the defendant expresses confusion or declines to provide a breath sample. A police officer’s failure to read the standard statement properly engenders a good defense to a refusal charge.

Therefore, the question before the Supreme Court in the Schmidt case was whether the officer was required to read an additional section of the standard statement after Schmidt gave insufficient breath samples. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s ruling and found Schmidt guilty on the refusal ticket for failing to provide adequate breath samples on the Alcotest. The Court stated that Schmidt initially consented to giving breath samples and later failed to provide adequate samples. He did not blow long enough and hard enough into the machine. The Court held that under such circumstances the officer was not required to read the additional paragraph on the standard statement.

This case stands as a further example of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s hard-line on DWI cases. The Court’s history of decisions in DWI cases has been consistent with the State’s strong public policy against drinking and driving.

 

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