The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a person who remains silent during an investigation of a drunken driving incident cannot have this silence used against him at trial. In State v. Stas, 212 N.J. 37, 50 A.3d 632 (2012), the Court held that using the defendant's silence as evidence of guilt and to assess his credibility violated his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
In 2008, the defendant, Stas, went drinking with his friend at a bar. Stas had driven to the bar in his sister's car. When Stas left with his friend, Stas told his friend he didn't want to drive because he had too much to drink. His friend drove and hit a parked car. When the police arrived, Stas refused to speak with the police other than to tell them the car belonged to his sister. The Municipal Court, the Superior Court, and Appellate Division found the use of Stas' silence against him permissible and harmless error. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed and stated that a defendant's silence cannot be used against the defendant and that the defendant was under no obligation to speak with the police.
Specifically, the Court stated that:
The privilege against self-incrimination protects individuals who are tried for DWI-related offenses in quasi-criminal proceedings such as the municipal court trial at issue here. In Berkemer v. McCarty, the United States Supreme Court held that a “person subjected to custodial interrogation” after being stopped is entitled to the protection of Miranda, including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, “regardless of the nature or severity of the offense of which he is suspected or for which he was arrested.” 468 U.S. 420, 434, 104 S.Ct. 3138, 3147, 82 L.Ed.2d 317, 331 (1984); see also State v. Leavitt, 107 N.J. 534, 538, 527 A.2d 403 (1987) (noting that since Berkemer, Miranda warnings have routinely been given in New Jersey before subjecting DWI suspects to custodial interrogation).
Specifically, defendants in N.J. have the right to remain silent and that silence cannot be used against them at trial as an admission of guilt or for self-incrimination.
We caution here to make sure that individuals driving in N.J. understand that the right to remain silent does not give an individual the right to refuse to take a breath test when requested by the police nor does an individual have the right to counsel when that request is made by the police. If an individual refuses they may be charged with both a refusal offense as well as a DWI offense.
As we always counsel our clients despite the pressures of the situation at the time to remain calm and polite throughout the process.
If you are arrested for DWI or refusal immediately contact our office.