New Jersey Breathalyzer Found Unreliable by Judge: What This Could Mean for New Jersey DUI Cases!
By: Mike Stetzer
A judge's recent finding that a New Jersey breathalyzer machine is not always reliable and should be used with discretion could possibly lead to thousands of DUI convictions being overturned in the state, and ultimately reveals how breath test results are far from certain.
Upon appointment by the New Jersey Supreme Court, retired judge Michael Patrick King was asked last year to examine the Alcotest 7110 and make a recommendation on its reliability. King turned in his report to the state Supreme Court last Tuesday, and details were made known to the public on Valentine's Day, according to a story in The New York Times.
Specifically, Judge King advised judges to consider other evidence in cases where BAC estimations from the Alcotest 7110 are close to the legal limit of 0.08 percent as mandated by New Jersey DUI law. Judge King wrote that an overestimated 0.08 breath reading could potentially mislead a judge to make a false conclusion of guilt about a suspect, especially in cases when field sobriety tests suggest innocence. While he described such a likelihood improbable, Judge King recommended the NJ Supreme Court to pay close attention to other evidence, especially the clinical findings and observations of the suspect upon arrest.
Judge King's report on the reliability of this breathalyzer machine is important for several reasons. To begin with, judges rather than juries hear New Jersey DUI cases. Furthermore, New Jersey DUI suspects are considered guilty if they register a BAC higher than 0.08. Thus, someone with a BAC reading as high as 0.085 percent could potentially not be found guilty of New Jersey DUI if the state Supreme Court accepts Judge King's recommendation, according to the story.
Judge King's report drew mixed reactions. DUI attorneys expressed pleasure with the finding. New Jersey DUI lawyer Jeff Gold was quoted in the story as saying that while the breathalyzer has been described as being "unimpeachably reliable," this finding proves it to be "impeachable."
Lawyers for the defendants in this case, State v. Chun, were upset that the company which manufactures the Alcotest 7110, Draeger Safety Diagnostics Inc., would not turn over a computer source code for the machine for proprietary reasons, and that this breathalyzer was then deemed unreliable.
The New Jersey State General Attorney's Office said Judge King's report validated the Alcotest 7110's reliability. The New Jersey Supreme Court said that it will hold a hearing on the report, and then release its own opinion. At least 10,000 New Jersey drunken driving cases since January 2006 remain open due to questions about this machine's reliability, according to the story.
Ultimately, this story validates an important point that breathalyzer tests are far from 100% certain and may possibly be challenged in DUI cases. For example, you may be unaware that breathalyzer machines must make certain assumptions about people in order to convert breath alcohol content into blood alcohol content, and that those assumptions may not apply about to you!