Defendant in New Jersey DWI Case Challenges Admissibility of Alcotest Results, Claiming Spoliation of Evidence

Security CameraThe state has the burden of proving that a defendant is guilty of an alleged criminal or motor vehicle offense beyond a reasonable doubt. The New Jersey court system has rules governing the admissibility of evidence, and a defendant may object to certain evidence for a wide range of reasons. In cases of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI), defendants often challenge the results from an Alcotest device, which measures a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The New Jersey Appellate Court recently ruled on a DWI defendant’s challenge to the admission of Alcotest evidence during his trial in State v. Patel. The defendant did not challenge the test itself or the results. Instead, he argued that the state had violated his due process rights by failing to preserve surveillance video footage from within the police station taken at the time of the test.

The use of an Alcotest device by police in DWI investigations is subject to multiple mandatory procedures, many of which were established by the New Jersey Supreme Court in a 2008 decision, State v. Chun. Prior to administering the test, an officer must observe the suspect for a continuous 20-minute period. During that time, the officer must make certain that the suspect does not eat or drink anything, place anything else in their mouth, touch their mouth, or regurgitate anything into their mouth. The defendant in Patel argued that surveillance footage would show that the officer failed to meet this observation requirement.

In evaluating the defendant’s challenge to the Alcotest results, the Appellate Division reviewed case law regarding the state’s duty to preserve evidence and its duty to provide evidence to a defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963’s Brady v. Maryland that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires the state to provide exculpatory evidence in its possession to a criminal defendant. New Jersey has applied the same rule to traffic offenses, including DWI, in cases like 2012’s State v. Carrero. These decisions leave it to the state to determine whether evidence is exculpatory or not. In practice, defendants must often take affirmative steps to identify and request—or demand—such evidence from prosecutors.

The court described the surveillance footage sought by the defendant in Patel as “potentially useful.” Case law dealing with evidence that is only potentially useful to a defendant includes the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1988 ruling in Arizona v. Youngblood and the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 1991 ruling in State v. Marshall. These decisions held that the state does not violate a defendant’s due process rights by failing to preserve “potentially useful” evidence unless it does so in bad faith. The burden of proving bad faith falls on the defendant.

The police department involved in Patel, according to the court’s description, maintains a system of motion-sensitive surveillance cameras for “security purposes.” The system reportedly only stores footage for as long as memory is available, and then it overwrites old footage. The defendant requested footage from the night of his arrest but was told that it had already been overwritten. The court held that this did not constitute a due process violation, and therefore it did not require the suppression of the Alcotest results, since the defendant failed to establish bad faith.

An effective defense against a DWI charge in New Jersey requires careful planning and preparation, with the assistance of an experienced and skilled DWI attorney. Evan Levow has practiced law in New Jersey for over 20 years, and he has dedicated his entire law practice to representing people facing DWI charges in the courts of this state. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, contact us today online or at (877) 593-1717.

More Blog Posts:

Defendant in DWI Case Has Burden of Proving Inability to Provide Breath Sample, According to New Jersey Court, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, August 6, 2016

Alcotest Documentation Was Sufficient in DWI Case, New Jersey Appellate Court Rules, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, April 4, 2016

New Jersey Supreme Court Reverses DWI Conviction Due to Insufficient Alcotest Documentation, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, February 21, 2016

Photo credit: “Security Camera” [Public domain], via Public Domain Pictures.