For more than eight years, our law firm has been principally involved in challenges to the Alcotest device, which the state uses to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) in DWI cases. We represented the lead defendant in a 2008 case, State v. Chun, in which the New Jersey Supreme Court established strict guidelines for the admissibility of Alcotest results and required multiple changes to the device’s software. Unfortunately, New Jersey courts have since rolled back those protections, starting with a 2011 ruling in State v. Holland. We went back to court in the Chun case in 2013 to challenge the state’s failure to do what the Court ordered in 2008. While the court ruled that the state may continue using the Alcotest device, the state will have to find an alternative soon. The German company Draeger, which manufactures the Alcotest, will no longer offer a warranty for the device after 2016.
The state continues to use the Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C device, with the New Jersey State Police offering operator certification and re-certification training for state, county, and local law enforcement. A person whose BAC is 0.08 percent or higher is presumed to be intoxicated under state law. BAC evidence is not necessarily required to prove DWI in court, but without it, prosecutors must rely on physical observations of alleged intoxication. While witness testimony is subject to cross-examination and challenge on a wide range of issues, a defendant typically may only challenge BAC evidence based on the device’s maintenance, calibration, and proper functioning. The Alcotest device has raised many questions in these areas.
In Chun, we challenged the scientific reliability of the Alcotest device, which uses two methods to measure alcohol concentration in a breath sample. The court’s decision describes how the device captures the breath sample in a chamber, where it uses infrared energy to calculate the alcohol content based on energy absorption. The second method takes part of the breath sample from the infrared chamber and applies voltage to oxidize the alcohol. This creates electricity, which the device measures to determine the alcohol amount. The device requires careful calibration, with a period of at least 20 minutes between calibration and use. Continue reading →