Drunk While Driving or Not

An Appeals Court in New Jersey recently ruled in the case of State of New Jersey vs. Putz that a man who parked in front of his girlfriend’s house with the car idling on a cold winter night was not guilty of drunk driving even though his blood alcohol was way above the legal limit.


The Putz case is a departure from previous law. New Jersey has long been very strict in convicting any person who was intoxicated and got his or her key near a car. Courts have ruled that the intent to operate a car can be inferred from a person taking a key and opening the car. The police do not have to wait until the driver actually starts the car up and begins to drive in order to arrest someone for drunk driving.  There have been a number of cases where the police approach people who are intoxicated while they are stopped and the Courts have generally found defendants guilty even though they were just sitting in a car.


In Putz, the most recent ruling from our Appeals Court on this issue, the Court found that when a person was sleeping in his car even with the engine running that was not enough evidence to show that the person intended to operate the car. The Court said that under New Jersey’s Drunk Driving Statute operation is a necessary element.


The highest court in NJ is the New Jersey Supreme Court. That Court may or may not review the ruling in State vs. Putz. If the Supreme Court of New Jersey does decide to take the case, it could result in the Supreme Court overruling the Appeals Court. The Supreme Court has generally been very favorable to the State in drunk driving cases. However, this recent ruling does provide attorneys with an additional argument to make to the Court in defending drunk driving cases if a person is not driving down the road when the police stop them.   Needless to say, the best advice is to avoid drinking and getting behind the wheel of a car!

About the Author

Marty Pappaterra is a Criminal Law attorney with the Princeton base law firm, Pellettieri, Rabstein & Altman, specializing in New Jersey drunk driving cases.   For more information visit

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