Articles Posted in Alcotest

The New Jersey statute defining the motor vehicle offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) gives prosecutors several options for proving a defendant’s guilt. They can introduce evidence of blood alcohol content (BAC) above the “legal limit” established by law, and they can also introduce other evidence to show that a driver was impaired by alcohol or drugs. A recent decision from the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division considered a defendant’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence introduced against him at trial. The decision in a recent case addressed both BAC evidence and observational evidence from police officers who were present at the time of the defendant’s arrest.

A BAC of at least 0.08 percent creates a legal presumption that a driver was impaired within the meaning of the DWI statute. Police use a device known as the Alcotest to collect breath samples in order to determine BAC. A 2008 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, established specific procedures that police must follow prior to and during the collection of breath samples with an Alcotest. A failure to follow these procedures by police can result in the suppression of BAC evidence at trial, possibly followed by the dismissal of the DWI charges. At the same time, a failure to follow police instructions by a driver can result in a charge of refusal to submit to breath testing.

Even if a DWI suspect refuses to submit breath samples, the state can introduce testimony by the arresting officer, the officer who administered the Alcotest, and other witnesses to establish that a defendant was “under the influence of intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.” This might include observations of a defendant’s physical appearance and behavior, such as “glassy eyes” or “slurred speech.” An officer can testify about detecting the odor of alcohol, as well as a defendant’s performance, or lack thereof, on field sobriety tests.

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Police departments throughout New Jersey use the Alcotest 7110 MKIII-c device to conduct breath tests on individuals suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI) in order to determine a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC). Accuracy is critical for these devices, since state law imposes penalties based almost entirely on BAC.

State law creates two tiers of first-time DWI offenses based solely on BAC. A BAC of 0.08 percent or above creates a presumption of impairment. For first offenders, penalties are greater if the BAC is at least 0.10 percent. Blood testing generally provides a more accurate BAC result than breath testing, but as the Chun decision notes, it presents “obvious practical and logistical problems.” Breath testing requires neither a warrant nor a medical professional. All police departments in this state have used the Alcotest since 2008, some since 2005. The device can only provide an “estimation of BAC,” based on the passage of alcohol from the digestive system to the circulatory and then respiratory system. It uses two methods to measure alcohol concentration, which Chun describes as “infrared (IR) technology and electric chemical (EC) oxidation in a fuel cell.” The EC measurement is the more controversial of the two.

The Alcotest’s EC technology creates a catalytic reaction that oxidizes alcohol in the breath sample, creating an electrical charge that the device can measure. The accuracy of this measurement requires careful maintenance. A “simulator solution” used to calibrate the device must be maintained at a precise temperature. Chun requires the use of a thermometer that meets standards set by a federal agency, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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New Jersey prosecutors often rely on evidence of a defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to prove guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases. Police officers typically determine a person’s BAC by testing a breath sample. All police departments in this state use a device known as the Alcotest for this purpose. The Alcotest is prone to errors, and it requires continual maintenance. We were involved in a New Jersey Supreme Court case, State v. Chun, that established specific procedures police must follow to maintain the Alcotest device. Failure to follow these procedures ought to result in suppression of the breath testing results. A pending lawsuit in a New Jersey federal court is calling thousands of Alcotest results into question due to allegedly fraudulent records. The plaintiff in Ortiz v. New Jersey State Police claims that thousands of DWI defendants throughout the state would have challenged the BAC evidence in their cases, had they known about the alleged failure to follow the procedures established by Chun.

Prosecutors can establish the required elements of DWI without BAC evidence, but state law gives them a compelling reason to prefer such evidence. A defendant with BAC of 0.08 percent or higher—commonly known as the “legal limit”—is presumed to be impaired within the meaning of the DWI statute. BAC of 0.10 percent or higher can result in even greater penalties. Anyone driving a vehicle on public roads in New Jersey, according to state law, has given implied consent to provide a breath sample on suspicion of DWI, and refusal to do so is a separate motor vehicle offense.

Devices that purportedly use a breath sample to measure BAC first appeared in the mid-20th century. The Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C became the device for New Jersey law enforcement during the early 2000s. It uses two methods to measure BAC: infrared spectroscopy and electrochemical cell technology. Regular maintenance and careful calibration are what the State says make the process reliable. The purpose of the Chun decision was to attempt to ensure that this happens.
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In order to prove impairment in a driving while intoxicated (DWI) case, New Jersey prosecutors can present the arresting officer’s testimony about their observations of a defendant and the result of chemical testing that shows a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) shortly after their arrest. Since DWI statutes in all 50 U.S. states create a presumption that a person is impaired if their BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, prosecutors often prefer to present chemical testing results. New Jersey law essentially requires drivers to submit to breath testing, but courts have set limits on when police may collect blood or urine samples. A recent article in the publication Vice documents an incredibly troubling—and frankly, cringe-inducing—practice of collecting urine samples by force.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Schmerber v. California in 1966 that police may collect blood samples without a warrant in DWI cases, although it placed significant limits on that holding in 2013 in Missouri v. McNeely. The New Jersey Appellate Division held in Jiosi v. Township of Nutley in 2000 that Schmerber “did not provide a carte blanche exception to the warrant requirement whenever there is probable cause to believe a suspect is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.”

If police obtain a warrant for a blood or urine sample, the question then becomes which measures they may use to obtain that sample. New Jersey’s implied consent statute holds that anyone who drives on public roads in this state has consented to providing breath samples for BAC testing. It also states, however, that chemical tests cannot “be made or taken forcibly and against physical resistance thereto” by a DWI suspect.

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The 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.

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New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) law places a great deal of emphasis on a defendant’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Police can determine a DWI suspect’s BAC by testing a sample of breath, blood, or urine. Breath testing is the most common method, and New Jersey’s implied consent law makes it a traffic offense to refuse a police officer’s demand for a breath sample. Not everyone is physically capable of providing a sufficient sample, however. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division recently ruled, in State v. Monaco, that a defendant has the burden of proving that a physical condition prevented them from completing a breath test.

Refusing to submit to breath testing is a traffic offense under New Jersey law, with penalties comparable to a first-time DWI. These can include fines, license suspension, and the use of an ignition interlock device. New Jersey police generally use a breath-testing device known as the Alcotest. Court decisions have established procedures that police must follow prior to and during breath testing, including a 20-minute waiting period during which the DWI suspect cannot touch or place anything in their mouth.

The Alcotest device requires at least 1.5 liters of air, which typically requires a person to exhale forcefully for at least four and a half seconds. Not everyone is capable of providing this much air through sustained exhalation. This was a key issue in the defendant’s appeal in the Monaco case.

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In any court proceeding in which the state seeks to impose penalties on a person for an alleged violation of the law, the defendant has the right to obtain evidence used by the state in the case. The process of obtaining evidence from opposing parties is known as “discovery” in both civil and criminal proceedings. Under New Jersey law, driving while intoxicated (DWI) is considered a traffic offense rather than a criminal offense, but defendants are still entitled to discovery before a case goes to trial. New Jersey courts have held, however, that a defendant’s right to discovery in a DWI case is narrower than in a criminal case. The court reviewed these rights, and the state’s obligations, in February 2016 in State v. Conroy, when it ruled on a defendant’s challenge to the state’s evidence.

New Jersey law enforcement uses a device known as the Alcotest to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in breath samples obtained from DWI suspects. State law requires any law enforcement officer operating an Alcotest device to be certified in accordance with standards established by the New Jersey Attorney General. These standards, which are codified in Title 13, Chapter 51 of the New Jersey Administrative Code (NJAC), require a Breath Test Operator (BTO) to have an “operator’s certificate” that is valid at the time they administer a test to a suspect. The NJAC states that a “replica certificate” with the “facsimile signature of the Superintendent [of the State Police] and the Attorney General” is valid to establish a BTO’s credentials.

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in State v. Chun established that the state must produce certain documents in any case that relies on breath testing evidence obtained with an Alcotest device. Subsequent decisions from the Appellate Division have identified types of evidence that do not fall under the requirements of Chun. Two decisions, State v. Maricic from 2010 and State v. Carrero from 2012, held that discovery in DWI cases is more limited than in criminal proceedings.

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When prosecutors in New Jersey pursue a case of alleged driving while intoxicated (DWI), they frequently rely on evidence of a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) obtained through breath or blood testing. Anyone with a BAC of 0.08 percent or above is presumed to be impaired for the purpose of a DWI case. Police in this state typically use a device known as an Alcotest to collect and test breath samples from DWI suspects. We were counsel in a case that went before the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2008, State v. Chun, which established multiple guidelines that the state must follow in order to use BAC evidence obtained with an Alcotest device. The state Supreme Court recently reversed a DWI conviction in another case, State v. Kuropchak, based on improper documentation regarding the Alcotest used by police.

Police in New Jersey currently use the Draeger Alcotest® 7110 MKIII-C. The DWI suspect blows into a tube, and the device analyzes the breath sample to estimate the person’s BAC. It bases its estimate on a “2,100 to 1 blood/breath alcohol ratio,” meaning that its programming assumes that 2,100 parts of breath contain the same amount of alcohol as one part of blood. This assumption was one of the many features of the Alcotest that were challenged in Chun.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Chun that the Alcotest is generally acceptable by scientific standards, but it imposed a variety of conditions on police using the device, and on prosecutors seeking to admit BAC evidence obtained with the device. The state must produce two documents relating to the calibration and maintenance of the device. It must produce a Certificate of Analysis showing that the device has the proper “simulator solution,” a solution typically designed to return a 0.10 percent result to use as a comparison to the breath sample. The state must also produce the most recent report documenting maintenance of the device, known as the “Calibrating Unit New Standard Solution Report.”

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Law enforcement agencies in New Jersey use a device known as the Alcotest to determine the blood alcohol content (BAC) of individuals suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI). A 2008 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court in which we represented several parties, State v. Chun, determined that the Alcotest is scientifically reliable, provided that the state meets certain conditions. The decision also established procedures that law enforcement must follow when using the device. The New Jersey Appellate Division heard a case last year, State v. Sorenson, that asked it to decide whether a failure by police to follow certain parts of Chun required suppression of evidence obtained with an Alcotest device.

BAC evidence is not required in a DWI case. A court can convict a defendant of DWI based solely on the testimony of officers who observed the defendant’s appearance and behavior. This is known as an “observational violation.” The New Jersey DWI statute also provides, however, that any person with a BAC of 0.08 percent or higher is presumed to be under the influence of alcohol. A DWI case based on BAC results is known as a “per se violation,” since it rests on the presumption of impairment. For a first DWI offense, the penalties are the same for a per se violation when the defendant’s BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, but lower than 0.10 percent, as they are for an observational offense. The penalties are greater, however, for a per se violation with a BAC of 0.10 percent or higher.

After an individual submits a breath sample to an Alcotest machine, the device runs various tests and prints out a Alcohol Influence Report (AIR), stating the BAC detected in the sample. The AIR frequently serves as the state’s evidence of impairment. Under Chun, police are required to provide a copy of the AIR to a defendant or a defendant’s counsel.

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The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that a person may not, “for the same offense…be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” This is known as the “double jeopardy” clause of the Constitution. Courts have interpreted it to mean—in a very general sense—that the government cannot charge a person with a criminal offense if they have been acquitted or convicted of an offense based on the same act or incident. The New Jersey Appellate Division, in State v. Sorenson, recently considered a DWI defendant’s claim that double jeopardy barred the prosecution’s appeal. A common misconception about double jeopardy is that it prevents the state from appealing any ruling in a criminal case, since it often does not apply to non-final judgments in trial courts.

The double jeopardy clause states that prosecutors cannot charge someone for the same offense more than once. Each phrase in the clause, particularly the phrase “twice put in jeopardy,” has been subject to extensive judicial scrutiny. Double jeopardy unquestionably applies once a person has been acquitted or convicted of a particular offense. For example, if a person is charged with DWI and acquitted (or convicted) by a municipal court, the state cannot charge that person with DWI again for the same incident. Prosecutors also could not appeal the acquittal itself.

When a case does not result in a final judgment of conviction or acquittal, however, double jeopardy becomes much more complicated. If a court dismisses a case based on a defendant’s pre-trial motion, the prosecution might be able to appeal that order. If an appellate court rules in the state’s favor, the case would proceed as though the dismissal had not occurred.

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