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What Does it Mean to be "Under the Influence"?

Posted by Carmine R. Villani | Aug 02, 2012 | 0 Comments

NJ Court Defines “Under the Influence”

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In State v. Bealor, 377 N.J. Super. 321, the court held that the term “under the influence” used in New Jersey DWI prosecutions means a “substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical capabilities of a person whether it be due to intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drugs…[A] condition which so affects the judgment or control of a motor vehicle operator as to make it improper for him to drive on the highway…[or] if the drug produced a narcotic effect so altering his or her normal faculties as to render such a person or danger to himself as well as to other persons on the highway.”

Does a Hangover After Drug “High” Count as Under the Influence?

In State v. Franchetta, the court was required to address the question of whether someone who had ingested cocaine that was not pharmacologically active at the time of the DUI stop was “under the influence” for purposes of sustaining a conviction.  The defendant had been suffering from a hangover or downside effect of cocaine injection.  Although the defendant was not “high” from the cocaine at the time of the traffic incident, his body was suffering from the after effects of it and was regaining its coordination.  As the expert explained at trial, “the muscles were not working the way they did because… they are rather tired out and not coordinating well.”  Nonetheless, the State's Drug Recognition Expert stated that the defendant was not under the influence of cocaine as only a metabolite was evidenced in defendant's blood test.

NJ Court Relies on Webster's Dictionary Definition

The court in Franchetta relied on the intent of the legislature and Webster's New World College Dictionary's definition of the term “influence” to uphold defendant's conviction at the trial court.  In concluding the conviction the court stated that, “the cocaine injected by defendant produced a physical effect which impaired his ability to properly operate a motor vehicle.  Such interpretation squares with the plain language of the statute and the clear intent expressed by the Legislature in enacting it.”

BAC of 0.08% is Not Necessary to be “Under the Influence”

The current limit for a driver 21 years of age and older is a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of  0.08%.  A defendant is considered “under the influence” of alcohol if his or her BAC is 0.08 percent or greater.  However, a defendant may also be convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor even if his or her BAC is below 0.08 percent. A DWI charge is possible if the defendant consumed any amount of alcohol, and it can be establish that his or her driving was directly impaired by that consumption.

Defining “Under the Influence” for Drivers Under 21

A driver aged 21 or over is automatically presumed to be driving “under the influence” of alcohol when his or her BAC is 0.08 percent or higher.  However, any person under 21 may be charged with an underage DWI if his or her BAC is between 0.01 percent and 0.08 percent, regardless of the other evidence against the individual.

Driving Under the Influence of Drugs

In DUI cases involving drugs, a defendant is considered “under the influence of drugs” when he or she cannot drive with the same care or ability as a sober person under identical or similar circumstances.  The term “drug” is defined to include any narcotic or prescription that alters a driver's faculties and coordination as to render him dangerous to himself or others on the road.  The definition of “under the influence of alcohol” is usually defined by the 0.08 percent BAC limit. However, the definition of “under the influence of drugs” is typically more difficult to accurately prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

DWI Tiers Based on Defendant's Level of Intoxication

In New Jersey, the severity of a DWI charge will vary depending on the defendant's level of intoxication as measured by BAC. A DWI with a BAC of 0.08% or greater, but less than 0.10% is typically considered less severe. It carries a lighter penalty than a DWI involving a BAC of 0.10 percent or greater, which is considered a second tier DWI charge.

Your Jersey Shore DWI Defense Law Firm

If you have been charged with a DWI or DUI, you need to call an experienced New Jersey criminal defense attorney to protect your rights and defend your case. Partner, Carmine R. Villani, Esq. has a wealth of experience in New Jersey drunk driving and underage DWI defense, having served as municipal prosecutor and municipal public defender in numerous municipalities in Ocean County and Monmouth County throughout his legal career. Contact the experienced NJ criminal defense attorneys of Villani & DeLuca for a free initial consultation about your drunk driving charge. Call (732) 709-7757 today!

About the Author

Carmine R. Villani

Founding partner, Carmine Villani, Esq. is a former municipal prosecutor with over three decades of experience in Criminal and DWI Defense.


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