You are driving on the roads of New Jersey, paying attention to the speed limit, road conditions, and other drivers, when you glance in your rearview mirror and see the flashing strobe lights of a police car. You carefully reduce speed and pull to the side of the road to let the officer pass, but you realize he is pulling you over. What do you do, and what are your rights?
First, remain as calm as possible, turn off the radio and wait for the officer to approach before you start looking for your documents. The officer will approach either your driver’s window or the front passenger window depending on the officer and the situation. The officer will ask you for your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. Hand those to the officer and ask why you were stopped. Some officers will tell you the reason and briefly listen to your side of the story. Many will simply tell you to wait in your car and return with your summonses. The side of the road is not the time to debate or argue with the officer. You are better off firmly, but respectfully, asserting your rights. If the officer asks you to step out of the car, you must do so. If the officer begins to question you about where you are going to, or coming from, you have the right to decline answering.
Suspicion of Alcohol Intoxication
If the officer says that he smells the odor of alcoholic beverage on your breath and asks how many drinks you have had, what type, and over what period of time, you have the right to refuse to answer.
If the officer asks you to perform certain roadside, field balance tests, you have the right to refuse, but you may still be arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and may be brought to the station for a breath test (known as the “Alcotest” as long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you are driving under the influence of alcohol.
If you refuse to submit to a breath test, however, you will be charged with a separate violation for “refusal” and face a separate period of license suspension and fines that are meant to mirror those for DWI. Your right to remain silent does not give you the right to refuse a breath test; every motorist on the roads in New Jersey is deemed to having given implied consent to submit to a breath test. Also, even without a breath test, a motorist who refuses a breath test can still be found guilty of DWI, because a conviction for DWI can be based upon the officer’s observations of your driving prior to the motor vehicle stop; your actions, appearance and movements while stopped; and your appearance in police headquarters.
If the officer says that he smells an odor of marijuana in your car and asks you whether you have just smoked, or where the drugs are in the car, you have the right to refuse to answer any questions. If the officer asks for your consent to search your car, you also have the right to refuse consent. The officer should (but might not), tell you explicitly that you have the right to refuse consent to search the car. Police officers usually attempt to obtain consent prior to performing a search, because obtaining consent allows them to search the car, even without probable cause that a crime was committed or that the car contains contraband.
But your refusal to provide consent to search does not mean that the officer does not have the right to search the car. If the officer can (or is willing to testify that he can) smell marijuana in your car, he can search the car under the theory that he has probable cause to believe that there is contraband – marijuana – in the vehicle.
The possession of a small amount of marijuana or a DWI or refusal is handled in the local municipal court. The possession of a small amount of marijuana is known as a “disorderly persons” offense (which is akin to a “misdemeanor” in other states), and is criminal in nature. DWI and refusal are considered traffic offenses in New Jersey, but the penalties are severe. For any of the above offenses, you can suffer loss of driving privileges, costly fines and penalties, increased insurance costs, and possibly even jail.
Contact Our NJ Drug Trafficking Defense Attorneys
Protect your rights. For questions regarding criminal defense of drug charges and drug trafficking, including charges relating to cocaine and marijuana, or DWI charges, contact Stahl Criminal Defense Lawyers. Our offices are located in Westfield, New Jersey and Manhattan. Contact us online or call us at 908-301-9001.