New Jersey Drunk Driving Law Update: NJ Appeals Court Confirms Morris County Decision

There is a new breathalyzer standard here in New Jersey, which is likely to have far-reaching effects throughout the state. For DWI cases going forward, a New Jersey Appeals Court has set a new Alcotest standard on December 1, confirmed a decision that states the patrolman who administers a breath test to a drunk driving suspect does NOT need to be the same police officer who witnessed the original DWI violation. As a New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyer, this latest decision only makes it more imperative that anyone accused of driving under the influence of alcohol retain a qualified DWI attorney.

According to news reports, this recent case comes out of Morris County and is good news for the police, as it provides them with more flexibility in their testing practices. Because a 20-minute observation period must be provided before a breath test, in the past this meant that the same police officer had to be off the street for the duration of the testing — Alcotest machines are not portable, so DWI suspects must be brought back to the police station for breath testing.

A lower court had provided for the dismissal of a case against Joel Ugrovics in July of 2008. At that time, Ugrovics was stopped for speeding and eventually arrested for DWI. The person who operated the Alcotest machine was not his arresting officer. He provided a sample that showed his BAC to be 0.13 percent. However, Ugrovics pointed to a Supreme Court ruling regarding Alcotest procedures to show they were not followed in his case.

Since the original officer was not there to monitor and ensure the 20 minute period was followed, Ugrovics’ defense team said the waiting period could have been compromised. A three-judge group disagreed unanimously and reinstated Ugrovics’ initial guilty plea.

The argument from the prosecutor’s office was that the Supreme Court’s main concern with the waiting period was not who was monitoring the suspect but rather was meant to ensure that the suspect had not done anything to alter the results. It also would not necessarily always be realistic for the Alcotest operator to also monitor a suspect, prosecutors argued.

N.J. appeals court rules with police departments in Alcotest drunken driving case, NJ.com, December, 3, 2009