Stop of the Vehicle

A police officer may stop a car for any legal reason, but certainly must have a legal reason to make the stop. The officer cannot act on a hunch or a general belief that something illegal has occurred. He or she must have an articulable legal basis for the stop.

Types of stops fall into a few categories, and are important in the assessment of the defense and prosecution of the case against the driver.

A stop for an equipment issue or a documentation issue is the most benign or less significant type of legal stop. If the reason for the stop is that a tail light is out or the vehicle's registration is suspended, and nothing else, there is no allegation that the driver has operated the car in a manner that would possibly suggest that he or she is under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs. This is very important. If the officer did not note any erratic driving behavior, that is a good point to assert in a defense of a New Jersey DWI / DUI charge.

A stop based on a tip from another individual is a complicated type of stop, especially where the officer does not note any actual erratic driving by the stopped motorist. These situations usually result from another driver calling the police to say that they believe someone to be intoxicated and driving a car in a particular location. These sort of "tips" require particularized information, such as the make, model and color of the car, where the car is coming from or where it travelling, and that the person believes the driver to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is important, therefore, to get as much information about the individual who provided this "tip" and determine exactly what information the officer was given prior to the stop of the vehicle. If the officer stops a vehicle that doesn't match the description given, then the stop may be invalid. If the officer does not notice any erratic driving by the stopped driver, that is an important fact to assert in the defense of the charge.

A stop based on speeding is not considered to be an indicator of operating while under the influence of alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as alcohol is a depressant that is associated with more cautious and slower behavior.

Stops based on erratic driving are more difficult to defend against, and are often the primary issues relied upon by officers, prosecutors and judges in the prosecution of drivers to establish that alcohol or drugs did in fact affect the motorist’s ability to drive the vehicle.

It is important to assess all the factors of the driving behavior, and whether there are reasons to explain the driving activity. This includes any physiological issues, equipment issues, or anything else that arguably affected the manner in which the driver was able to operate the vehicle. It is important to hire a qualified New Jersey DWI lawyer who will explore all these issues and seek to establish as strong a defense against the NJ DWI / DUI charges as can be made under the particular circumstances.