New Jersey Supreme Court Upholds Alcotest Device following Challenge to Machine’s Reliability

Proof of intoxication is typically a key element in any case against a motorist who has been charged with DWI, or driving while intoxicated. As any seasoned drunken driving defense lawyer knows, a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol can result in potentially crippling consequences for his or her client; making it all the more important to challenge any evidence that might help to prove the defendant was drunk at the time of the arrest.

It is important to remember that simply because a driver is stopped for a traffic offense, under which circumstances the police officer in charge believes the driver to be under the influence of beer, wine or hard liquor, the state must still show proof of intoxication to the court. If the municipal prosecutor cannot adequately show that the defendant was legally impaired, the court may find that individual not guilty of the charges, or simply throw out the case for lack of sufficient evidence.

But the evidence can be strong when a breathalyzer machine, such as the Alcotest device, has recorded a measurement(s) that indicates a substantial amount of alcohol in the driver’s bloodstream. Because DWI-DUI is a serious offense, which can carry with it severe and costly penalties should a person be convicted, the results provided by machines such as the Alcotest 7110 — used by police departments all across New Jersey — have for years been the foundation of most DWI cases against accused drunk drivers.

While considered a fairly reliable measurement of blood-alcohol content (BAC), the Alcotest device and other breath testing machines have undergone a variety of legal challenges over the years. Experienced DWI defense attorneys have often looked toward these machines’ occasional tendency to either malfunction or be used in an improper manner by their operators. (It’s a fact that many DWI cases have been dismissed by courts all across the Garden State simply due to procedural errors by the officer administering the testing.)

More recently the New Jersey Supreme Court backed the reliability of the Alcotest device, which to say the least was a disappointment to many drunk driving defense lawyers. According to the news reports covering the high court’s decision, New Jersey police departments got the green light to continue using the alcohol breath testing machines in gathering evidence against motorists charged with intoxicated driving.

The court’s ruling upholds the use of the Alcotest machine, which as a matter of history replaced the original “Breathalyzer” devices more than 10 years ago. While 20 individuals who had been charged with driving drunk offered up a legal challenge to the Alcotest device back in 2006, the brief halting of these machines’ use was turned around in 2008 when the Supreme Court decided that the Alcotest device provided “generally scientifically reliable” BAC results. That ruling returned the machines to use, though with some required modifications.

This most recent decision by the Court stated that the Alcotest “remains scientifically reliable” and that the results provided by these machines are admissible to prove a DWI violation. The Court also stated that the challengers did not prove that the state “willfully refused to comply” with the court’s 2008 order (which mandated a number of software modifications and required the state to create a database for access by defendants and attorneys).

On that latter point, defense lawyers have often claimed that the database created by the State of New Jersey has never been easy to search; however, the high court included in its ruling that the state had indeed provided a database that was “fully in compliance” with the Courts 2008 order. Disappointing many defense attorneys, the latest Supreme Court ruling will likely not stop future challenges, especially when a newer version of the Alcotest device becomes available in coming years.

N.J. high court backs reliability of DWI testing, Philly.com, September 19, 2013