Published On: Wed, Dec 19th, 2018

NJ Supreme Court Rules Over 20,000 Breathalyzer Tests Inadmissible

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that more than 20,000 breath tests conducted by police in DWI cases are not admissible because the breathalyzer machines were not properly calibrated.

People who were convicted on the basis of those tests may have their convictions overturned. The machines in question were used in Monmouth, Middlesex, Somerset, Ocean and Union counties.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

“Breath tests measure the amount of alcohol in the breath, then convert that number to determine the alcohol blood content (BAC),” says Keller Law Offices, a firm not involved in the case. “As a result, breath tests are susceptible to a variety of influences that cause inaccurate readings.”

Improper calibration of breathalyzers is one such influence that can lead to inaccurate readings.

Last October, prosecutors in New Jersey notified 20,667 people that their drunk driving cases were being reviewed. The move came after police Sgt. Marc W. Dennis was accused of skipping a step in the calibration of three alcohol breathalyzer devices.

In 2016, the officer was accused of not using a thermometer to check the temperature of the control solution, which is supposed to be at body temperature. If the solution does not work properly, the accuracy of the test results can be questioned.

It is still unclear how law enforcement and state courts will proceed with the matter. The ruling does not expunge all drunken-driving convictions, but defendants affected by the compromised breathalyzers could challenge their convictions.

Dennis was indicted in December 2016 and is facing criminal charges in Monmouth County. The machines calibrated by Dennis had been used for DUI cases between 2008 and 2016.

The legal challenge was brought forth by Eileen Cassidy, who found out that the results of her breathalyzer test were among those affected by Dennis’s alleged tampering. Cassidy was in prison at the time after pleading guilty to a third DUI, which was based primarily on a breathalyzer test. New Jersey imposes a mandatory 180-day sentence to those who are convicted of a third DUI.

Cassidy’s lawyer was informed of the alleged tampering two weeks into her sentence. She then filed a lawsuit. The Supreme Court ruling vacated her final conviction. Cassidy died of cancer in March at the age of 54.

In New Jersey, a first DUI offence leads to a revocation of a driver’s license. Drivers have their licenses suspended for a year with a second offense. A third offense carries mandatory jail time as well as 10 years without a license.

Author: Jacob Maslow

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