Operating Under the Influence

New Jersey law provides that a driver has committed a DUI/DWI offense if he operates a vehicle with a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or higher, or while under the influence of drugs. As an experienced attorney, I have litigated many DUI/DWI cases before the court, and often at trial, the issue of guilt in a DUI/DWI charge can turn on whether the driver was in fact "operating" the vehicle under the definition of DUI/DWI law in New Jersey. I have defeated countless DUI/DWI charges for my clients by demonstrating that my client was not "operating" the vehicle at the time of intoxication.

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"Operating" a Vehicle

Were you operating the vehicle? Can this be proved?

In order to "operate" a vehicle under New Jersey law, a driver must have the intent to operate the vehicle. Whether certain factual scenarios constitute intent is often a pivotal point in DUI/DWI cases. Intent to drive must be inferred beyond a reasonable doubt in order for a person to be convicted. This can get complicated when an intoxicated person is found sleeping in his vehicle, or sitting in a vehicle that is inoperable. Several cases help clarify where the law stands in these situations.

State v. Daly

In this case, the defendant was found by police sleeping in the driver's seat of his vehicle in a tavern parking lot. The motor was running, but the car lights were off. The defendant told the officer that he only turned the car on to stay warm and had no intention of driving anywhere. The court found the driver was not guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated because the facts showed that he had no intention of driving anywhere. Notice that the case turned on the intention of the driver and not the fact that the vehicle's motor was running. Likewise, in a case where the vehicle is not running, but there is intention of driving, this could warrant a conviction.

State v. Stiene

In this case, the car was not running, but the driver was pushing a stationary vehicle down the highway while intoxicated. This is a good example of how intent can prove operation even if the vehicle is not turned on. The court found that the act of pushing the vehicle fell within the definition of operation under New Jersey law, and the defendant was found guilty.

State v. Mulcahy

This case is another good example that a driver's intention is more determinative of guilt than whether the car was running. In this case, the defendant got into the car and was about to turn the ignition on when he was stopped by the officer. Like in Steine, in this case, the court held the driver was guilty of operating a vehicle while intoxicated because he intended to put the car in motion. It was irrelevant that the vehicle was never actually started.

State v. Gately

In this case, the defendant was sleeping in a parked car. His head was resting on the passenger seat and his feet were near the brakes on the driver's side. He had been left in his car by a friend who did not want to be around him in his drunken state. The court found the defendant was not guilty of operating while intoxicated because he had no intention to drive.

State v. DiFrancisco

In this case, the court went beyond examining intent, and asked whether a person can be convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated when the vehicle is inoperable. In this case, the defendant's car was stuck in a ditch and could not be removed. The court found intent to be irrelevant, explaining that even if he had the proper intent to warrant a conviction, he could not be convicted because the vehicle was inoperable in its state.

For more information, visit my DUI/DWI Homepage, or visit one of my other New Jersey DUI/DWI information pages which are listed below.

Contact me today for a free initial consultation at 1-866-664-8118. We can discuss defenses to your case over the phone or in person at your convenience. If you have been charged with a DUI/DWI in New Jersey, my goal will be to achieve the best possible outcome for you. I work closely with my DWI/DUI clients to discuss their needs and circumstances. I will apply the most aggressive defense strategy to fight the charges against you. With my experience, I will be able to provide you with an honest assessment of the penalties you are facing and the probable outcome of your case. My offices are located in Cranford and Elizabeth, New Jersey, at 190 North Ave. E., Cranford, New Jersey, 07016 & 740 Newark Ave., Elizabeth, New Jersey, 07208.

The Palumbo & Renaud law firm defends individuals accused of offenses throughout New Jersey including Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Essex County, Somerset County, the towns of Union County including Elizabeth, Woodbridge, Linden, Rahway, Clark, Roselle, Roselle Park, Springfield, Kenilworth, Union, and Scotch Plains.