Facing a DUI charge can be incredibly stressful. Getting convicted and losing your license could dramatically affect your life. Can you beat the charges? Does the state have enough evidence to prove their case against you? How can you defend yourself?

You don’t have to accept a DUI charge without a fight. You have legal options. 

At this point, it’s important to talk to a lawyer about your case. DUI cases are fact-specific – the outcome depends on what happened in your unique situation. You shouldn’t give up on your case or agree to any pleas until you speak with an attorney about what happened first.

This is because you may be charged with a DUI or DWI but the state may not actually have enough evidence to convict you in court. An experienced lawyer can look at the facts of your case, determine where you stand, and take steps towards a successful outcome for you.

So what does a prosecutor have to prove in order for you to be convicted of a DUI or DWI? The assessment below applies primarily to New Jersey and New York law.

What Is a Reasonable Doubt?

In both New Jersey DUI and New York DWI, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you operated a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a common legal term known as a standard of proof. In order to convict you of a DUI, a judge must be convinced with no reasonable doubt left about the truth.

This is a high standard of proof – much higher than “preponderance of the evidence,” which only requires a judge to be more than 50% sure that the facts more likely happened than not. A higher standard of proof makes it harder for the prosecutor to prove their case against you.

Having a higher standard of proof for a DUI conviction makes sense. After all, a DUI could have major consequences on your life, including criminal penalties and a criminal record (in New York). 

“Operating” a Motor Vehicle

To prove that you’re guilty of a DUI, the state must first prove that you were “operating” a motor vehicle. This may seem like an obvious question at first – it makes sense to assume that you’re operating a car if you’re in the driver’s seat while it’s moving.

But what if you’re in the driver’s seat and the car is parked? What if the engine is on but you’re not moving? Do you still qualify as “operating” the vehicle then?

  • In New York and New Jersey, “operating” a vehicle is broader than actually moving the car. It could be enough to be behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. Or standing outside the car on the side of the highway. The issue of “operation” is very fact specific and you should discuss this in detail with a skilled DWI/DUI defense lawyer who can assess whether your case involves a real issue on operation. A case can be won or lost on the “operation” issue, it is that important. 

Proving Impairment Under the Influence

The second part of proving a DUI involves showing that the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs. This process is more straightforward with alcohol than with other drugs.

Both New Jersey and New York use breath test results taken during or after your traffic stop to prove that you were under the influence of alcohol. In both New Jersey and New York, the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is 0.08%. You may face increasingly severe penalties if your BAC is especially high – for example, over 0.15% in NJ or 0.18% in NY.

But a breathalyzer cannot detect drugs other than alcohol. Blood tests for marijuana or cannabis aren’t accurate because THC can be detected in the body weeks or months after use. And there’s no way to field test other types of prescription medication or illegal drugs.

A prosecutor trying to prove drug intoxication may also use the following as evidence:

  • A failed Field Sobriety Test (FST), which can be challenged on the grounds that the test wasn’t administered properly or your “failure” was because of something else
  • The arresting officer’s observations, testimony, and report notes
  • Any statements you made to the arresting officer, which you could argue are inadmissible in court based on evidence rules
  • Physical evidence from your vehicle, such as open containers or traces of drugs
  • Police dashcam or bodycam footage of your traffic stop interactions
  • Other eyewitness testimony from third parties who happened to see you driving the vehicle, such as passengers or pedestrians

Not all evidence is ironclad. The evidence against you may feel overwhelming but an experienced DUI lawyer can help enforce your legal rights. You shouldn’t face the heavy hand of the law alone without a diligent advocate by your side.

How to Fight a DUI/DWI Charge

The best way to defend yourself against a DUI charge is to get an attorney to look at your case as soon as possible. DWI cases take priority in both the New Jersey and New York court systems, which means your case will proceed quickly and may be heard within 60 to 120 days.

In defending yourself, your attorney may use several different strategies:

  • Challenging chemical test results for being administered or handled improperly
  • Countering the officer’s testimony with another valid explanation for your behavior
  • Introducing witnesses who will testify that they saw things differently
  • Challenging the validity of the traffic stop on probable cause grounds
  • Bringing up other legal missteps such as failing to read you your Miranda rights

A DUI conviction could mean losing your driver’s license, owing thousands of dollars in penalties and fines, or even facing criminal charges. It’s important that you take your next steps forward with confidence in your defense. The attorneys at Kugel Law can help. Schedule a no-risk case consultation with our leading DUI/DWI attorneys now. You can reach us at our New York offices at (212) 372-7218 and our New Jersey offices at (973) 854-0098.