Interviewer: After being arrested, released, and charged with a DWI or DUI, what are some of the first things I need to do to figure out if I need a lawyer, and how serious the charges will be?
Ron Mondello: As I previously mentioned, I have been practicing Municipal Court law for over two decades. A DWI or DUI offense is not the same as a two point moving violation. My advice to a defendant charged with a DWI or DUI would be, at a minimum, to speak to several attorneys about your situation. Even if you know in your heart of hearts you were drunk and you don’t want to have a trial and you believe you are guilty, there are some draconian penalties associated with a DWI or DUI and you must have an attorney to speak to and to review the discovery from the state. Discovery consists of the police reports and all of the records associated with the breathalyzer, which at one time was called the “drunkometer”.
Retaining an Attorney is Absolutely Necessary
An attorney experienced in DWI and DUI law in New Jersey would understand how to evaluate the discovery and look for potential mistakes and or defects. The attorney may not be able to get the DWI or DUI dismissed by they may be able to reduce those fines or penalties and license revocation substantially. In my opinion, you must always hire an attorney when you are charged with a DWI or DUI in New Jersey.
When a potential client comes to my office to speak about a New Jersey DWI or DUI, I first inform them that there are two strategies that we must discuss and eventually together we must pick one. The first strategy is you hire an attorney to review the discovery make sure there are no blatant mistakes in any of the discovery or any of the documents the state will be relying on to prosecute your New Jersey DWI or DUI. The attorney is there to discuss the discovery with you and obtain any missing discovery. The first strategy consists of reviewing those materials but eventually pleading guilty to the DWI and having any and all other tickets issued as a result of the New Jersey DWI or DUI motor vehicle stop dismissed. I refer to this strategy as a review and a minimization of the penalties.
Be Prepared to go to Trial
The second strategy consists of having a trial. A trial for a DWI or DUI in New Jersey consists of the state going first presenting the testimony of the officer who pulled you over. The New Jersey prosecutor in that particular court representing the state on your New Jersey DWI or DUI would then most likely call the breathalyzer operator to the stand and that police officer would give testimony. Typically, the Municipal Court prosecutors case against you for this New Jersey DWI or New Jersey DUI would be over. Naturally, after the testimony of the state’s witnesses, meaning the police officer who pulled you over and the breathalyzer operator, your attorney would have an opportunity to cross examine those witnesses in order to find inconsistencies.
After the state has rested, you have an opportunity to present your own witnesses. So, who do we have to provide testimony? If during our initial consultation, as almost all New Jersey DWI or DUI clients tell me, you told the police officer you had two beers or more of some other drinks, it would be very problematic to put you on the stand and have you testify. So, I ask again who do we have? If you are seriously considering a trial you must also seriously consider hiring expert witnesses. What do I mean by expert witnesses? There are experts that will come to court on your behalf for a fee (naturally) and listen to the testimony of the police officer who asked you to perform certain field sobriety tests. This individual would be an expert in field sobriety tests and he would be able to determine the smallest mistakes that the police officer made in conducting those field sobriety tests with you. Another expert could write a report and come to court on your behalf, naturally for a fee again, and present evidence to the court that your breathalyzer reading is inaccurate due to a number of faulty conditions with the breathalyzer and/or mistakes that the breathalyzer operator may have made. The state of New Jersey prosecutes DWIs and DUIs through a two-pronged approach. The first prong is called the “per se” approach. Here, if you blew a .08% BAC or higher through the breathalyzer machine you are per se guilty of driving while intoxicated. The second prong or approach is called observations. Here, the state tries to convict you of driving while intoxicated based on the results of how you performed the field sobriety tests.
What Information Does Your Attorney Require to Defend Your Case?
Interviewer: What information about what happened is important for me to note down and have ready when I speak to a New Jersey DWI or DUI lawyer so that they can help me most effectively?
Ron Mondello: When a potential client comes to my office for a New Jersey DWI or DUI, I will ask you to tell me what happened from the point of drinking or from the point of ingesting drugs. I will ask you to take me through the entire night. For example, my first question might be where you were when you took your first drink. We will then meticulously in a chronological fashion go through what happened next and what happened next and what happened next until the point where you are issued tickets and released from custody from the police department that arrested you.