No doubt you’ve already heard the news. This week, the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruled that more than 20,000 DWI charges are invalid due to errors in calibrating Alcotest breath test devices. A whole lot of defendants are likely sighing in relief. After all, the Supreme Court’s ruling may make all the difference in setting up legal defenses for charges in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. (This is commonly referred to as the drunk driving statute.)
First, what is an Alcotest? Many think of the term breathalyzer as the device used by police to estimate a suspect’s blood alcohol count (BAC). However, Alcotest devices are a particular brand name manufactured by Draeger Safety Diagnostics. Among other things, the machine must be calibrated in order to produce accurate results.
In State v. Cassidy, New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Walter Timpone agreed with a special master that a state police technician failed to properly calibrate Alcotest 7110 breath test machines used on suspected drunk drivers. What happened? It appears that the police sergeant didn’t use the proper thermometer specified by the New Jersey Supreme Court in an earlier case, State v. Chun.
Alcotest Results Found Invalid
First, some quick facts about the Supreme Court’s decision. Unfortunately, the defendant Eileen Cassidy is now deceased. She originally pled guilty to charges that she was driving while intoxicated based solely on what she believed were the Alcotest results. Notably, it was Cassidy’s third conviction, and the associated penalties were high.
Subsequent to her day in court, the news came out with some big headlines. It seems there was evidence that a police sergeant failed to properly handle the calibration of the devices. Therefore, the scientific reliability of the results made them questionable. Cassidy decided to withdraw her guilty plea.
Last May, retired Appellate Division Judge Joseph Lisa acting as special master held that failure to use a NIST (National Institute of Science and Technology) traceable thermometer specified in Chun “raises substantial doubts about the scientific reliability of breath test results produced by Alcotest devices…”
The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred. Its ruling concluded that the police technician failed to calibrate breath tests used in more than 20,600 cases over seven years in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties. Although the majority of the flawed test results occurred in those counties, the problem actually extends to twelve counties.
What does this mean? DWI convictions will need to be retried, while those still pending might have to be abandoned. In fact, you could be impacted if you were accused of DWI between 2008 and 2016.
This case is a win for defense counsels across New Jersey because it may provide grounds to appeal a DWI conviction because of the Alcotest test results being inadmissible. Ultimately, the prosecution has the burden of proof in field sobriety cases.
While a breath test can offer strong evidence regarding a suspect’s BAC, they are not infallible. Also, this is not the first time Alcotest breath tests were held invalid in New Jersey.
Were You Charged with DWI?
If you have been charged with DWI, you should seek legal counsel, especially if this new Supreme Court case may impact you. The Law Offices of Beninato & Matrafaljo has extensive experience representing those charged with DWI. Contact us now to schedule a consultation.