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“Operation” of a Motor Vehicle Under the New Jersey DUI Laws

The New Jersey statute for driving under the influence of alcohol, N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, requires the “operation” of a motor vehicle as an element of the DUI offense. However, in enacting the DUI statute, the Legislature did not provide a definition of operation. Thus, the definition of “operation” of a motor vehicle for purposes of a New Jersey DUI offense has been defined by the courts through case law.

While there are a number of cases that have addressed this issue, the foundation of “operation” is based upon an intention by the operator to put the motor vehicle in motion. Thus, in one of the early cases to discuss this issue, State v. Sweeney, the NJ Supreme Court held that operation of a motor vehicle within the scope of the DUI statute includes the act of an intoxicated driver entering a stationary vehicle, placing the key in the ignition and starting the vehicle. If that person remains behind the wheel with the intent to put the vehicle in motion, they can be said to be operating a motor vehicle.

This issue is not uncommon in New Jersey DUI matters and is highly fact sensitive. If you have questions regarding whether you were operating a motor vehicle in connection with a DUI charge, contact The Reinartz Law Firm to discuss your case. We are experienced New Jersey DUI lawyers who handle cases throughout the state.