Earlier this year the courts were faced with a potential problem affecting the reliability of the Alcotest device, which is used extensively throughout New Jersey to measure the blood-alcohol content (BAC) of suspects arrested for alleged drunken driving. As many people know, breathalyzer machines provide one of the main pieces of evidence that a motorist was operating his or her vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
Although not used in all drunk driving cases, the use of these breath test devices make up a significant percentage of DWI convictions in Bergen, Middlesex, Ocean and Morris County.
As New Jersey drunk driving defense lawyers, I and my colleagues possess an extensive understanding of the Alcotest machine, its maintenance and operation. Certainly to have these devices under close examination raises many questions about those DWI convictions on which possibly faulty BAC measurements were based, in whole or in part.
According to news articles, some facets of the Alcotest machine’s reliability were ordered to be re-examined by a Monmouth County court within two months from a state appeals court decision at the beginning of April. It was not unexpected that any ruling requiring further investigation into the quality of the device’s measurement capability would likely cause a delay in the prosecution of DWI-related cases where the defense presented a challenge to the proper calibration of these machines — specifically the quality of a temperature probe used to maintain proper operation of the Alcotest model 7110 MKIII-C.
Since 2008, when the New Jersey Supreme Court found the Alcotest machine to be scientifically reliable, these devices have been used by the New Jersey State Police as well as police departments in numerous municipalities throughout the Garden State. The latest issue affecting the device refers to the temperature probe made by Ertco-Hart Co. The probe itself is not part of the machine proper, but a separate component that is needed to calibrate the Alcotest device.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2008, the temperature probe is now made by Control Co. Inc. It is this company’s product that is being called into question in a number of different drunken driving cases, such as one in Neptune, NJ, which argues that the Control Co. probe is inferior to the Ertco-Hart probe on which the Supreme Court found its ruling regarding reliability of the machines. In the Neptune case, a Monmouth County Superior Court judge ruled to suppress the BAC results.
While the appeals court concluded that the Supreme Court’s ruling did not literally mean that every Alcotest component needed to be made continuously by the same manufacturer, it was decided that additional hearings were needed to determine whether Control Co.’s digital temperature probe when used to calibrate the Alcotest device yields results comparable to an Ertco-Hart part.
According to reports, the appeals court ordered that Monmouth County judge be designated to conduct a hearing establishing the reliability of the Alcotest results in the Neptune case, as well as another in Sea Girt.
Reliability of DWI testing machine to be reviewed, APP.com, April 5, 2011
NJ appeals court: Re-examine reliability of Alcotest in DWI cases, DailyRecord.com, April 5, 2011