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Former State Prosecutor and Criminal Trial Attorney

Former State Prosecutor

Former Atlantic County Prosecutor

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Experienced for over 30 years

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New Jersey: Driving Not Necessary for a DUI Charge

New Jersey takes drunk driving seriously and imposes tough penalties for those operating a vehicle while over the legal limit.

In New Jersey, the legal limit for operating a vehicle while intoxicated must be below 0.08 BAC. Those found in violation of this can, depending on the severity, potentially face thousands of dollars in fines, jail sentences up to 30 days, community service, alcohol education classes, ignition interlock device installation, and license suspension.

However, “operating” a vehicle in New Jersey doesn’t necessarily mean “driving” a vehicle. A person can be found “operating” a vehicle over the legal BAC limit, even if the vehicle is parked, if he or she has the “intent” to drive.

What the State of New Jersey Considers Operation

In State v. Sweeney, the Supreme Court of New Jersey defined what it means to “operate” a vehicle for purposes of drunk driving. The court stated that an individual is considered “operating” a vehicle under the influence if that person, “enters a stationary vehicle, on a public highway or in a place devoted to public use, turns on the ignition, starts and maintains the motor in operation and remains in the driver’s seat behind the steering wheel, with the intent to move the vehicle.”

The law seems straightforward, but the state still must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person has the “intent” to drive while intoxicated. Two cases highlight this importance.

In State v. Daly, the state argued that the defendant had intended to drive while intoxicated because he was sitting drunk in the driver’s seat with the motor running. The court would’ve likely agreed. However, the defense was able to prove that the man was reclining in the front seat to sleep off his intoxication and had the motor turned on for the heat, not to operate the vehicle. Therefore, the court ruled that the man did not have the “intent” to drive as required under the statute.

In State v. Mulcahy, the state argued that someone putting his or her key into a car’s ignition should constitute a person’s “intent” to drive. In this particular instance, a police officer said he witnessed the defendant climb into the driver’s seat of his car while intoxicated and take out his keys. The officer then confiscated the man’s keys as he was putting them into the ignition. In this case, the court ruled that, based on the facts, the man did, in fact, have the “intent” to drive while drunk.

In other circumstances, defendants who were found intoxicated in the back seat of the car, or standing outside the vehicle with the car keys in their hand were found to not have any “intent” to drive.

It’s important to understand that, as highlighted by these cases that courts rule on a case by case basis. Speaking with an experienced DUI attorney who knows the law can educate individuals on the law as it relates to their specific circumstances.

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