Under The Influence and New Jersey’s DWI Statute

under the influence, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code, New Jersey, Driving While Intoxicated, DWI, Driving Under the Influence, DUI, drunk driving, Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, Warren County, criminal defense, traffic ticket, juvenile, attorney, lawyerNew Jersey’s Driving While Intoxicated statute imposes penalties on a person who operates a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug…1 Previously I blogged about the the meaning of the elements motor vehicle and operation. Many examples fall within the definition of motor vehicle. Additionally, many circumstances fall within the broad definition of operation. Similar to operation, the New Jersey legislature did not define under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic, or habit-producing drug in the Motor Code. Instead, the judiciary has developed the definition through case law. This post will take up the meaning of these elements.

Under The Influence of Intoxicating Liquor

In this previous post about operation, I urged readers to forget the DWI statute is for drunk driving. The statute prohibits operation, and the meaning of this element significantly exceeds driving. For this post, forget the drunk driving name because under the influence of intoxicating liquor is less than slobbering drunkenness.

For information about the affects of alcohol on the brain, please visit the library to find an authoritative source. A rudimentary knowledge of this, however, will provide insight into the legal definition at the heart of this post.

Thus, according to my lay understanding, the text intoxicating liquor is colorless, odorless ethyl alcohol (“alcohol”). Thanks to the ingredients that give ethyl alcohol its flavor, however, human breath emits a particular odor after imbibing it. Alcohol enters the bloodstream by passing directly through the stomach walls. Considered a depressant, most of the alcohol will enter the circulatory system through the intestines. But once alcohol enters the blood stream, it begins affecting speech, vision, memory, logic, balance, and coordination.

New Jersey law defines under the influence of intoxicating liquor as having imbibed to the extent that one’s physical coordination or mental faculties are deleteriously affected. Though prosecutions are commonly referred to as “drunken driving cases,” one can be guilty without being absolutely drunk or sodden with alcohol.2 Therefore, courts interpret this as a general condition that affects one’s judgment or control making it improper to operate a motor vehicle.3 Furthermore, to be guilty the court must find a substantial deterioration or diminution of the mental faculties or physical capabilities of the defendant.4

Under The Influence of Narcotic, Hallucinogenic or Habit-Producing Drug

The previous section set forth the legal definition of under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The definition for under the influence of narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug, however, varies slightly from intoxicating liquor. The method of proof, however, varies significantly. To prove a case involving intoxicating liquor, the State may rely on lay witness testimony. But to prove a case involving drugs, the State must call a qualified expert witness to testify.

The legal definition is a substantial deterioration or diminution of mental faculties or physical condition of a person, whether due to intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit producing drugs. The statute does not require proof of the specific drug. Additionally, the statute does not require proof of the amount consumed. With respect to drugs, a driver is under the influence if the drug produced a narcotic effect so altering his normal physical coordination and mental faculties as to render such person a danger to himself as well as to others on the highway.

Parting Shot

I’m not suggesting anyone operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug. But if you get caught, NJ Drunk Driving Lawyer Michael A. Smolensky, Esquire, knows how to protect his clients. Mr. Smolensky can provide consultations on all cases involving DUI. Call Now—(856) 812-0321.



1 N.J.S.A. 39:4-50

2 State v. Emery, 27 N.J. 348 (1958) (citation omitted).

3 State v. Johnson, 42 N.J. 146, 165 (1964).

4 State v. Tamburro, 68 N.J. 414 (1975).

5 State v. Bealor, 187 N.J. 574 (2006).