In New York and New Jersey Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) is one of the most pervasive charges facing individuals today. Pervasive in that it is a charge that unlike most other criminal charges, pervades every element of our society. Unlike other criminal defendants who are more often young and poor and often have extensive criminal records, people charged with DWI include teens and baby-boomers, blue collar and white collar individuals, people who drive for a living, and people who would never even think of committing another crime. And pervasive because few other charges can have such far reaching effects. While most criminal charges can result in probation, a fine or even jail, few other charges can result in the loss of your driving privileges and long lasting effects on your insurance premiums. In addition, a conviction can leave you with a permanent criminal record. (In New Jersey the average DWI conviction can cost over $3500 exclusive of insurance premium increase and attorneys fees)
Yet, despite these consequences, few who are accused and few lawyers ever challenge these cases thinking that the prosecution’s case is to strong to successfully litigate.
To further complicate the matter, the recent trend towards toughening DWI laws has created a maze of statutes that are often confusing to not only individuals but also to all but the most experienced lawyers. For instance, while most states suspend or revoke the license of those who refuse to take a breath or other chemical test, New York State now also suspends the licenses of those who do, prior to conviction, while the matter is being litigated. In addition, many places also summarily seize your vehicle.
In addition, the recent reduction in the statutory limit to .08% blood alcohol content now criminalizes having only a few drinks with dinner. Yet, a person doesn’t actually have to be driving the car to be charged with DWI. Merely sitting in the driver’s seat, with the key in the ignition can be considered “operating” a motor vehicle for the purposes of a DWI arrest and conviction.
As dire as these charges seem, all is not lost. Many breath machines have been proven to be inaccurate. In addition, constitutional challenges to the admissibility of evidence can severely hurt the prosecutions chances of obtaining a conviction, and a skilled attorney can often, through appropriate cross-examination, show the arresting officer to be less than reliable in his observations and recollections concerning a DWI arrest.