Every crime has a rule, called the “statute of limitations,” that defines how long the government has to charge you with the crime. If they wait too long, you cannot be charged with the crime, and avoid most legal penalties. While driving while intoxicated (DWI) charges do have a statute of limitations in New Jersey, it is important to understand why this statute of limitations usually never comes into effect, and why police and prosecutors quickly file and try DWI cases. The Atlantic City DWI defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain:
Statute of Limitations for Drunk Driving Cases
Statutes of limitations exist to protect people from old cases. Because evidence becomes less reliable and human memory decays as time moves on, older cases may not be as reliable as recent cases. In addition, it is unfair to let people wait for years, wondering if they will be taken to court for an old issue. Because of this, both criminal and civil cases have time limits to file them.
These time limits are only for filing the charges against you. This means that police and prosecutors have a limited time in which they must get the charges to court. After that, they have more time before they must complete the trial. You are entitled to a “speedy trial,” so any delays the government creates are limited, and they must complete the case against you within a reasonable time. However, most delays or extensions you create extend the amount of time to finish the case.
If you were already charged with and arrested for DWI, the statute of limitations is no longer a concern. Because the case is already filed by that point, police and prosecutors have as long as it (reasonably) takes to finish the case. That means that you cannot “run the clock” on the statute of limitations by avoiding court or fleeing the state. In reality, failing to appear at your court dates or skipping out on bail is a bail violation. This can lead to additional penalties for failure to appear, and potentially obstruction of justice charges. In addition, judges can issue a “bench warrant” to demand you are re-arrested and sent to jail, so they can force you to appear in court and face the case.
In New Jersey, DWI is technically a traffic offense under the Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulations (N.J.S.A. § 39), not a criminal offense under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice (§ 2C). This means that the statute of limitations for DWI is the found alongside the statutes of limitations for other traffic offenses. N.J.S.A. § 39:5-3(b) sets the statute of limitations for a DWI as a strict 90 days from the incident. Many crimes have statutes of limitations of many years (or no statute of limitations, as in cases of homicide), so this is a very short time limit.
DWI Statute of Limitations Details in New Jersey
The statute of limitations for DWI is so short, in part, because police and prosecutors rarely let DWI cases go without charges. DWI charges are different from many criminal offenses, since proving them is very time-sensitive. While you may be able to get a victim’s testimony months after an incident, or get DNA evidence from a murder victim years after the case, you cannot tell if someone was drunk or under the influence of drugs if you wait too long.
Police and prosecutors need evidence of drunk or drugged driving as soon as possible to prove their case. Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) dissipates over time as your body cleans the alcohol from your system. This means that, to get evidence of drunk driving, police need to act fast. Police will often use breathalyzer tests at the scene of the stop, or use breath and blood tests immediately after arresting the drunk driver.
Police must follow certain search and seizure rules, and cannot demand you to take a breath test without first getting your consent, arresting you, or showing you a valid search warrant. Police also cannot draw blood without a search warrant or consent. When you are under arrest though, you could face charges and license suspensions for refusing a breath test in New Jersey. This means that you will usually be arrested as soon as police gather enough evidence to suspect you of DWI. While you are under arrest, police will file charges against you and get the case moving as soon as they can – meaning DWI crimes rarely get a chance to run the statute of limitations. Because police need to make arrests to gather this evidence, they rarely allow more than a few hours to go by before charging suspects with DWI – let alone allowing the 90-day limitations period to run.
South Jersey DWI Defense Lawyers
If you committed a drunk driving offense in New Jersey, talk to an attorney right away. The New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych represent clients in Atlantic City and throughout South Jersey. For a free, confidential consultation on your case, contact our law offices today at (609) 616-4956.