Judge in Atlantic County, NJ, Rules Drunken Driving Breath Test Machine Unreliable

An Atlantic City judge recently overturned a DWI conviction when he found that only a certain type of thermometer probe should be used to determine the reliability breathalyzer devices. According to recent news reports, Superior Court Judge Max Baker’s decision could affect the results of numerous drunk driving cases in the Atlantic County area. Apparently, the New Jersey State Police, whose job it is to regulate the Alcotest breath test device, did not immediately say how many police departments in the county use the reportedly unreliable component.

As a New Jersey drunken driving defense lawyer, I and my colleagues are well versed in the law pertaining to drunk driving as well as drug DUI arrests. Each of our attorneys is also qualified in the operation and maintenance of the Alcotest machine cited in this news report.

Superior Court judge’s ruling could negate DWI arrests throughout the county, according to other area defense attorneys and municipal prosecutors. According to court records, the ruling come from an appeal by Emilio Rivera who was pulled over on New Year’s Eve, 2009, along the Garden State Parkway.

Rivera was arrested for drunk driving and taken into custody. Police eventually administered the Alcotest at the Bass River Barracks. The man’s case was initially heard in Galloway Township, were he was convicted on evidence presented by the prosecutor’s office. However, his attorney appealed on a number of issues, including the manufacturer of the temperature probe and the room where the defendant was tested for blood-alcohol content (BAC).

A key to the man’s appeal was the fact that in the New Jersey Supreme Court’s previous ruling stating that the Alcotest device could replace the Breathlyzer throughout the state, it named only one company as the approved manufacturer for the thermometer probe. Specifically, the Ertco-Hart digital measuring system is the one specified, however it has come to light that some police departments use a probe made by the Control Company.

Apparently, testimony from another case concerning the two probes showed that Control was the choice of probe mainly because it is cheaper — about $300 compared to $2,000 for the Ertco-Hart model, which also requires yearly recalibrations that can cost upward of $700. According to the news report, Control’s probe is replaced rather than recalibrated.

New reports also indicate that Atlantic is not the only county that may be affected by this decision. The appellate division recently heard arguments regarding two Monmouth County DWI cases in which the judge ruled against the Control probe as well. However, a Mercer County judge found the Control probe to be a reliable alternative.

Judge’s ruling on unreliable breath-test indicator could affect other Atlantic County DWI arrests, PressofAtlanticCity.com, February 11. 2011