Thursday, December 22, 2011

Motion to Suppress Evidence: How to Beat the Criminal or Driving While Intoxicated Charge in New Jersey

December 22, 2011, today, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division in State v. Thomas W. Bernokeits, Jr., affirmed well established case law regarding the right of a police officer to order a motorist out of his vehicle in order to perform a field sobriety test.

In that case Mr. Bernokeits was driving in Seaside Heights, New Jersey (his first mistake), after spending some time at the “Bamboo Bar” (his second mistake).

Mr. Bernokeits vehicle was stopped as claimed by the police officer because the vehicle and tinted windows and a loud muffler.  Once pulled over, the officer asked Mr. Bernokeits whether he had consumed any alcohol beverages.
Of course, Mr. Bernokeits had the right to remain silent and not give a response, but he didn’t, and gave the standard usual reply, “I only had one beer" (his third mistake).

The officer then decided to order Mr. Bernokeits out of the vehicle to perform a field sobriety test.  The officer’s reason for that, according to his testimony, was that first, he smelled hard liquor on his breath and not beer, and second, he admitted that he had just left the “Bamboo Bar”, and third, it was late at night.

Mr. Bernokeits argued before the Appellate Division that the officer needed probable cause to ask him to perform the field sobriety test relying on the seminal case State v. Jones, 326 N.J. Super. 234 (App. Div. 1999).  In that case the appellate division held that the mere smell of alcohol emanating from the motorists breath or vehicle, and the admitting that alcohol was consumed, without more facts (for example the plain view sight of an open container), was insufficient to sustain probable cause to search the motor vehicle.  Therefore, Mr. Bernokeits argued that the police officer erred in requesting him to take the test because of the officer’s smell of alcohol on his breath.

The court rejected this argument, citing the State v. Adubato, 420 N.J. Super. 167, 181 (App. Div. 2011), which held that the officer requesting a motorist to submit to a field sobriety test, although a de facto arrest, does not need probable cause but only a factual basis for articulable reasonable suspicion that the motorist is driving while intoxicated or impaired.

The lesson of this case is that any motorist who admits to having any alcoholic beverages prior to operating a motor vehicle, and has consumed enough to leave traces of it on his breath can be required to perform a roadside field sobriety test to determine whether there is probable cause to arrest the motorist for driving while intoxicated.

Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
December 22, 2011
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Tel. No. (908) 354-7006

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