Law enforcement, safety organizations and insurance companies alike spend significant resources reminding New Jersey drivers to avoid getting behind the wheel while impaired. Whether this impairment involves alcohol, drugs or strong medication, these agencies encourage drivers to seek safer alternatives. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the vehicle occupant to face significant consequences if their BAC tests over the legal limit – even if they were not driving the car.
The relevant language in New Jersey’s DWI statute specifically notes anyone who operates a motor vehicle while impaired. While on the surface it might seem straightforward, the phrase is never properly defined. There is a great deal of gray area and the vagueness of the statute affords significant variation in how police handle these situations. While every situation is unique, certain factors could be common:
- An individual is sleeping in their car – engine off, keys not in the ignition – in the bar or restaurant’s parking lot. It is clear that the driver had left the establishment and chose to sit in the car to sleep the effects of the alcohol away. While not impossible, this individual is unlikely to face a DWI charge.
- The individual from above is sleeping in the car with the engine running. The driver might argue that he or she was attempting to stay warm or cold, depending on the season, but the officer might argue that the driver had prepared to drive while impaired and simply passed out.
- An individual is sleeping in their car at a rest stop or alongside the road. Even though the vehicle is not in motion, the officer will likely argue that the driver had to travel some distance while intoxicated to reach this destination.
Whether it is driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI), the penalties for these charges are considerable. Individuals might face jail time, fines, community service and mandatory education programs. Additionally, a criminal record could impact someone’s job opportunities, housing opportunities, educational opportunities or chances of securing a personal loan. In all circumstances, it is wise to have an experienced defense attorney who can fight for your best interests from start to finish.