DWI Resulting in a Gun Charge in New Jersey
How can a DUI Lead to Gun Charges in NJ?
Most people are aware that driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is illegal in New Jersey. When an officer observes your car swerving into another lane, moving too slowly, quickly, or erratically, they may suspect you are driving drunk, high, recklessly, or carelessly. Any unusual driving may cause suspicion of a DWI. Further, since speeding, drinking, and distraction are among the top reasons for fatal accidents, the police are more likely to stop drivers who they believe are engaging in these activities. Once the police stop or arrest you, they could discover other evidence of criminal activity, such as unlawful gun possession.
Perhaps a police officer stops you for driving unusually or running a red light. While receiving your license, registration, and insurance proof, they think they smell alcohol on your breath and observe you with bloodshot eyes. Now they have reason to investigate other suspected criminal activity. They request that you step out of the car for field sobriety testing, arrest you if you fail or perform poorly, and search you and your vehicle. If you have a gun without a permit from New Jersey and your weapon is stored in an illegal manner while driving, you now have a severe criminal charge awaiting you upon arrest.
The State of New Jersey has a harsh approach when it comes to gun charges. If you find yourself charged with a gun in connection with a DWI arrest, you need to know what happens in the legal process in order to be prepared for what’s ahead. It is equally imperative to understand the consequences you’re facing and potential strategies that may be used when defending against your DWI charge and gun charge, especially now that the penalties are compounded because they occurred in the same case. You should also consult with a knowledgeable lawyer who can assess all of the facts and circumstances of your case and determine the best course of action to get your charges reduced or dismissed. To speak with an experienced criminal and gun defense attorney regarding your DUI and weapons charge today by calling (201) 614-2474. We represent clients charged with handguns, other firearms, and prohibited weapons throughout New Jersey.
Charged with a Gun during a DWI Stop in New Jersey, What Happens Next?
We begin these cases, and really any criminal charges for that matter, with a complaint. A complaint is a document in the State of New Jersey that will indicate what crimes you have allegedly committed. Complaints come as a “Warrant” or a “Summons.” While a summons commands that you appear in Court on a particular day and time, a warrant commands your arrest assuring that you will appear in Court. If you are facing a gun charge, that will lead to being charged on a warrant, which means you must be arrested and held in jail for up to 2 days before seeing a judge. What happens next can determine whether you are released from jail while you await your next court appearance or if you are kept in jail for the duration of the criminal legal process until your case is closed.
If the prosecutor handling the case files a motion for detention, then you will have a detention hearing, where you should have a lawyer defending your case and illustrating you in the best possible light to the judge. Essentially, you need to show why you should be released from jail, return to court at scheduled appearances, not commit any offenses or endanger anyone else, and continue to be a law-abiding, positive member of the community while awaiting the resolution of your gun case.
There are a variety of considerations taken into account when a person is charged with a gun offense on a warrant, which are considered by the judge who reviews your Public Safety Assessment performed by pretrial services. These factors include, but are not limited to, the type of charge(s) at hand, if Defendant is a flight risk and may not appear in Court based on prior failures to appear, whether the Defendant poses a danger to society due to violent offenses now or in the past, the person’s prior criminal record, their age, and previous restraining orders against them, etc. A skilled lawyer can raise all of the reasons in support of your release, with or without conditions, during your bail hearing and then construct the top defense approach after reviewing all of the evidence in your case.
DWI with a Gun Charge in Superior Court, Criminal Division in NJ
The vast majority of gun cases mean you are facing felony-level charges, which means your matter will initiate in the Superior Court as opposed to Municipal Court. Superior Courts deal with cases of greater severity. In other words, in the Criminal Division of the Superior Court, more of your freedom is at risk if convicted at the Superior Court level. Although a standard DUI case with no firearm involved will be handled at the Municipal Court in the municipality where the arrest occurred, the addition of a weapons charge after a traffic stop for drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs means the case will be handled at the Superior Court in the county.
Once you move beyond initial Court appearances and possible detention hearings (that could keep you in jail throughout the resolution of the case), you may hear buzz words like indictment or accusation. A grand jury presentation for possible indictment is a basically probable cause hearing for felony level offenses. During the indictment process, the State presents the case to the grand jury. There is a very low standard for issuing an indictment because the prosecutor presents the case and the defense is not present. Thus, most cases presented to the Grand Jury result in indictment.
However, during plea negotiations, and potential resolution of the case, indictment may be waived by the Defendant and the case may proceed by accusation instead. Indictments or accusations are charging documents that summarize essential case facts and allegations of the case. If a plea is negotiated and accepted by the Defendant, he or she may waive having the case presented to the Grand Jury. Likewise, if the prosecutor agrees to a Gravest Act Waiver and consents to you applying for the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, then you can potentially avoid indictment and a conviction if you successfully enroll in and complete the probationary term during the PTI program’s time frame.
Strategies for Defending a NJ DUI and a Firearm Charge in the Same Case
While being arrested and charged with a DUI along with a gun or weapons offense can seem like the worst case scenario, having these two charges occur in conjunction can also provide you with potential defense strategies to get crucial evidence suppressed, or one or both charges dismissed entirely. Keep in mind, a talented defense attorney can still challenge probable cause for a DWI stop, field sobriety test procedures and results, and the breathalyzer reading for accuracy and legality. A lawyer with advanced knowledge in New Jersey criminal and DWI law and defense can review all of the discovery about the servicing and maintenance of the breathalyzer, as well as anything else the prosecution is using against you, including the supposed reason for the stop in the first place.
Even with the reasons behind breath tests in driving while intoxicated cases, this does not change the fact that the breathalyzer is a device that must be properly serviced and maintained for it to be accurate. Examining all of the specs and details of the machine used in your case may lead to findings of improper protocols that render the breath test results invalid. Since these results are often used to prove level of intoxication for a DWI charge, having the breath test deemed inadmissible can make the prosecutor’s case substantially weaker, if not altogether insufficient, to prove the DUI charge against you.
Now, let’s turn to approaches for defending a gun charge after a DWI stop in New Jersey. There must be cause for the motor vehicle stop in every DUI case, unless the stop is conducted at a legally valid sobriety checkpoint. In other words, the police can not pull you over for no reason while simply driving on the road. That being said, if a lawyer can show that the officer lacked probable cause for the traffic stop that preceded your arrest for DUI, then any evidence obtained during the stop is considered “fruit of the poisonous tree,” and cannot be used against you in court. In essence, by invalidating the stop itself, then a gun found during a search of your vehicle incident to a DWI arrest is also unusable by the prosecution.
Contact an Experienced NJ Lawyer if You are Facing DWI and Gun Charges
The penalties for illegal guns and illegal gun possession in New Jersey are extreme. When these charges happen along with a DWI charge, you go from facing prison time, heavy fines, and a felony conviction, to facing all of those punishments plus the consequences of a DUI, which include more fines, court costs and fees, ignition interlock device requirements for your car, possible driver’s license suspension, and additional time in jail. Contact the team at The Tormey Law Firm to talk to a New Jersey defense lawyer with a track record of success handling gun charges of all kinds and those that occur during drunk driving stops. Our lawyers have successfully had gun charges dismissed on illegal search of motor vehicle grounds in towns such as Fort Lee, Hoboken, New Brunswick, Edison, Elizabeth, Union, Paramus, and Toms River. Contact us at (201) 614-2474 for a free consultation.