New Jersey DWI Update: Court Holds that DWI Testing Rules Don’t Apply to Current Cases

Not long ago a New Jersey appellate court made its decision in the case of STATE v. HANNA, No. A-5256-08T4 (N.J.A.D. 2010). In this appeals case, the appellant, Douglas Hanna, argued that his drunk driving conviction was not valid because certain procedures that are now required for the collection of evidence through chemical-based blood-alcohol content (BAC) measurement testing were not in place when he was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated.

As a New Jersey DWI defense attorney, I know there are many instances where an appeal can make sense following an unfavorable judgment in a drunk driving, drug DUI or breath test refusal case. In fact, I and my colleagues are experienced in this area and work aggressively to defend motorists who are caught on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol or prescription drugs.

In the case of Mr. Hanna, he was picked up for drunk driving on November 21 of 2007. Following his arrest, he was transported to the hospital due to complaints of chest pain. After being released from the facility, approximately two hours later, the police officer in charge detected the odor of alcohol on Hanna’s breath. The man did consent to a breath alcohol test conducted on an Alcotest device, which returned a BAC of 0.18 percent. According to court records, the device had last been calibrated seven months prior.

In the interval between Hanna’s arrest and trial, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided State v. Chun, 194 N.J. 54 (2008). In Chun, the court ruled that police departments must have all Alcotest devices calibrated every six months and also to maintain a central database of the Alcotest results.

At trial, Mr. Hanna petitioned the court to throw out the results of his Alcotest because the device had not been maintained (calibrated) under the new rules, namely every six months, not seven. The defendant also asked for access to the data collected from the device used on him in lieu of the State database which had not yet been created. Both requests were denied.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hanna, courts hardly ever apply new laws or precedents to older cases. In fact, the wording used in the Chun decision also worked against Hanna’s appeal, since it states that the State must “forthwith… commence inspection and recalibration of all Alcotest devices every six months.” As it appears, the decision was obviously meant to apply to cases following the 2008 Chun decision, which would not apply to Hanna’s 2007 arrest.

Following the court’s denial of Hanna’s appeal, he agreed to a plea of guilty to a first-offense DWI. Hanna was fined $664 and sentenced to 12 hours at the Intoxicated Driver’s Resource Center. In addition, his New Jersey driver’s license was suspended for, ironically, seven months.