Alcotest Decidedly the New Standard in New Jersey DWI
By: Gerri Elder
In New Jersey, more than 10,000 people who have had DWI convictions on hold have received a bit of bad news. The New Jersey Supreme Court has cleared the way for the courts to process the drunk driving convictions that have been on hold for two years.
The state Supreme Court recently ruled that the results of breath tests conducted by the Alcotest 7110 are reliable. The Alcotest has replaced the Breathalyzer across most of the state. According to the ruling, the Alcotest results will be admissible in court as long as the police follow the safeguards that the court outlined in its 132-page opinion.
The Alcotest is a fully automated device to determine the blood alcohol content of people suspected of New Jersey DWI. The Breathalyzer test was invented in 1954, and the state says that they can no longer purchase replacement parts for the Breathalyzer machine.
Examining the New Jersey Alcotest Debate
New Jersey DWI lawyers previously challenged the accuracy of the computerized Alcotest. In early 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court appointed retired Appellate Division Judge Michael Patrick King to study the machine. King's findings were not what the DWI defense lawyers expected. He found that the Alcotest was far more accurate than the Breathalyzer. The Supreme Court decision relied largely on King's recommendations.
The Supreme Court justices were unanimous in their decision. The Star-Ledger reported that Justice Helen Hoens wrote in the opinion that "The device, with the safeguards we have required, is sufficiently scientifically reliable that its reports may be admitted in evidence."
New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram was pleased with the decision of the Supreme Court. Milgram has sought since 2003 to have the Alcotest certified statewide and regards the opinion of the Supreme Court as a step forward towards the next generation of breath tests.
Milgram says that the Alcotest utilizes state-of-the-art technology and a host of other safeguards and will provide strong evidence against drunk drivers. She believes it will be a powerful tool for police.
At least one New Jersey DWI defense lawyer disagrees with the Supreme Court decision and Milgram. Evan Levow says that the Alcotest is so faulty and scientifically unreliable that its use violates drivers' constitutional rights. He says he will appeal the Supreme Court decision.
For now, the review of 10,708 drunk driving convictions that have been on hold since January 2006 will go forward. The purpose of the reviews will be to see if the Alcotest readings that were used to convict the drivers fall within the accuracy range outlined in the Supreme Court decision. In the cases that hold up under the Supreme Court standards, sentences will be imposed.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court also set guidelines requiring that the Alcotest machines be checked for accuracy at least twice a year. The maker of the Alcotest must also provide training on how the device works to DUI defense lawyers and expert witnesses and give notice to the public and the state before making changes to the device or the software that drives it.