Articles Posted in Blood Testing

In order to prove guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases in New Jersey, law enforcement must show that a defendant was under the influence of either alcohol or certain types of drugs. State law allows them to use chemical tests that allegedly show the presence of alcohol or drugs. Chemical testing for alcohol has an extensive body of law addressing how police must collect and test samples of a DWI suspect’s breath. For other drugs, they must use samples of blood or urine. This type of testing can be much less certain, both scientifically and legally. Urine testing, in particular, has significant reliability issues. If the state tries to introduce results from urine tests, DWI attorneys must carefully examine the evidence to look for errors.

New Jersey has used chemical testing in DWI and DUID cases for decades. In 1964, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that “[a]lcoholic content in the blood furnishes a scientific measure of the extent of the influence of liquor upon the person.” It went on to state that “chemical analysis of the blood itself, urine, breath and other bodily substances is a scientifically accurate method of ascertaining that content.”

State law currently defines the offense of DWI in two ways: “operat[ing] a motor vehicle” either (1) while impaired by an “intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug;” or (2) “with a blood alcohol concentration [BAC] of 0.08% or more by weight of alcohol in the defendant’s blood.” BAC above the “legal limit” of 0.08% creates a presumption that the defendant is legally impaired by alcohol. The state’s implied consent statute makes breath testing mandatory in DWI investigations.
Continue reading

New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute is not limited to alleged driving while under the influence of alcohol. The law only provides an actual metric for how much alcohol may be present in someone’s system before they are presumed to be legally impaired. For cases involving alleged impairment by other substances, New Jersey prosecutors often rely on drug recognition experts (DREs), law enforcement officers who have received training that purports to help them identify the effects of particular drugs on individuals. After a DWI defendant challenged the admissibility of DRE evidence, the New Jersey Supreme Court appointed a special master to assess each step in the procedure used by DREs. Evan Levow is representing the DUI Defense Lawyers Association (DUIDLA) in the case. A hearing began in early October 2021, in which the special master is hearing testimony regarding the scientific reliability of DREs. With New Jersey moving towards the legalization of recreational cannabis, the outcome of this case is likely to have a far-reaching impact.

In addition to alcohol, the DWI statute includes “narcotic[s], [and] hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug[s]” as substances that can cause impairment. A driver with blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08 percent or more is subject to a presumption of impairment. The statute does not specify actual amounts of any other substance. Instead, prosecutors must introduce eyewitness testimony about a defendant’s behavior to prove that they were too impaired to drive. DREs arose as a way for the state to meet its burden of proving impairment.

DREs receive training and certification based on the Drug Recognition and Classification Program (DEC), which is operated by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. The DEC protocol involves a twelve-step process that DREs use to evaluate individuals suspected of driving under the influence of drugs (DUID). The process begins with BAC testing, and includes field sobriety tests and various other examinations. Toxicology testing is the last step in the process.

Continue reading

New Jersey’s laws dealing with the offense of driving while intoxicated (DWI) say a great deal about impairment by alcohol, but far less about impairment by other substances. The statute makes it a motor vehicle offense to drive “while under the influence” of alcohol, with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 percent, or while under the influence of a “narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug.” This last category is ill-defined, especially when compared to the vast body of law dealing with alcohol. New Jersey courts may accept testimony regarding impairment by drugs even in the absence of evidence of any specific drug in a sufficient amount to cause impairment. Understanding how New Jersey law deals with “drugged driving” is critical to mounting a defense.

State law identifies two types of DWI involving alcohol. Operating a vehicle while “under the influence of alcohol” constitutes DWI, but requires the state to prove the existence of alcohol’s “influence” over a defendant. If a defendant had BAC of 0.08 percent or more, state law presumes that they were under the influence. This is known as DWI per se. Courts have developed an extensive set of rules surrounding DWI allegedly caused by alcohol, especially when breath testing is involved.

We were part of a landmark 2008 decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, which established procedures and requirements for the admissibility of BAC evidence obtained from breath testing. It addressed the breath-testing device used by law enforcement around the state, known as the Alcotest. The state supreme court has reiterated the importance of the procedures set forth in Chun. In a 2015 decision, for example, it stated that any finding of guilt in a DWI per se case “is subject to proof of the Alcotest’s reliability.”
Continue reading

Police and prosecutors can use blood alcohol content (BAC) evidence to prove that a defendant charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey was under the influence of alcohol. State law presumes that a person was too impaired to drive safely if their BAC was 0.08 percent or higher. Evidence of BAC at or above this “legal limit” does not automatically mean, however, that the state has met its burden of proving guilt. When police are not able to conduct breath testing for BAC, such as when a driver suspected of DWI must go to the hospital after an accident, they might test a sample of the person’s blood instead. Blood testing presents different challenges for police, and opportunities for defendants to dispute the evidence against them.

Breath vs. Blood Testing

The New Jersey DWI statute uses very broad language to define the offense and state what kind of evidence the state may use to prove that a person was “under the influence of” alcohol. State and federal courts have filled in many details regarding the collection of breath, blood, or urine samples to test for BAC. Police throughout New Jersey use a device called the Alcotest to test breath samples at police stations. The device analyzes the breath sample and reports results in a few moments.

A medical professional must draw a blood sample for BAC testing. This usually occurs at a hospital. The sample must then be transported to a laboratory. Prosecutors must show a clear chain of custody for the sample, and they must be able to establish that no contamination occurred at any point.
Continue reading

New Jersey prosecutors can prove guilt in driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases by presenting evidence showing beyond a reasonable doubt that a person was impaired by alcohol or drugs while operating a vehicle. They can also prove guilt, at least with regard to impairment by alcohol, by showing that a person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was at least 0.08 percent. Police can measure BAC using samples of a person’s breath or blood. For drugs other than alcohol, they must test blood or urine. Drug testing is far from a settled science, and false positives still occur quite often. DWI defense in New Jersey requires careful examination of evidence that supposedly shows positive drug test results or BAC above the “legal limit” of 0.08 percent.

State law requires drivers to submit breath samples for BAC testing. Anyone driving on New Jersey’s public roads is considered to have consented to breath testing. Refusal to submit breath samples is a motor vehicle offense that could be charged along with DWI. Blood and urine samples still require either a search warrant or a driver’s consent.

Police in New Jersey use a device known as the Alcotest to test breath samples for BAC. Unlike blood or urine samples, breath samples cannot be stored for later testing. The Alcotest is therefore designed to perform tests at police stations, not laboratories. A person blows into a tube, and the device subjects the breath sample to chemical reactions. The device requires frequent maintenance and careful calibration.
Continue reading

New Jersey has developed an extensive body of law addressing the investigation and prosecution of suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI), at least when the substance in question is alcohol. Testing the amount of alcohol present in a person’s system, known as blood alcohol concentration (BAC), is a highly imperfect process, which is prone to constant errors. Despite its many flaws, it is still a better system than anything available for determining whether a driver was impaired by other drugs. Currently, New Jersey prosecutors pursuing alleged driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) must rely on (1) chemical tests with no specific threshold amount to determine impairment, and (2) the testimony of police officers purportedly trained to identify outward signs of intoxication by various drugs. As legislators continue to consider the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act (NJCREAMA), questions will continue to abound about how to enforce DUID laws involving marijuana, and how to defend people charged with that alleged offense. If you have been charged with a DWI, it is important that you speak with a New Jersey DWI attorney as soon as possible.

In cases involving alcohol, New Jersey’s “legal limit” of 0.08 percent BAC creates a presumption of impairment. This is often known as per se DWI. New Jersey law has no specific threshold amount for marijuana or any other drug in DUID cases. Police can seek a warrant to test samples of blood or urine, but that only indicates whether or not a suspect had a particular drug in their system at the time the sample was taken. Prosecutors usually must produce other evidence to establish impairment. This often involves testimony by police officers who receive specialized training as “drug recognition experts” (DREs).

In cases involving alleged marijuana impairment, chemical testing evidence and DRE testimony may conflict with one another. Marijuana can show up in blood or urine tests long after its effects have worn off. Several recent New Jersey cases have relied on chemical tests allegedly showing the presence of marijuana in a driver’s system, despite testimony from eyewitnesses, including police officers, who did not notice any signs of impairment.

Continue reading

The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures” that are not supported by probable cause. It generally requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant from a judge before they may conduct a search, seize property, or make an arrest. Courts have identified numerous exceptions to this requirement, however. In New Jersey driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases, drivers give their implied consent to provide breath samples to police. A blood draw, however, is considered much more intrusive, and is not covered by the implied consent law. The U.S. Supreme Court has issued several rulings over the years on the question of whether police may order blood drawn from a DWI suspect without a warrant or the suspect’s consent. A ruling from June 2019, Mitchell v. Wisconsin, involved a warrantless blood draw on a suspect who was unconscious. The court vacated the conviction and remanded the case without a clear majority ruling, but five justices were inclined to support warrantless blood draws in certain situations.

If police obtain evidence in violation of someone’s Fourth Amendment rights, that person can ask a court to prevent the use of that evidence against them at trial. This is known as a motion to suppress. The state can offer various justifications for a warrantless search. The “exigent circumstances” exception has featured prominently in DWI cases involving warrantless blood draws. This exception allows police to conduct a search or seize property without a warrant when there is a significant risk of the loss or destruction of material evidence or contraband.

The Supreme Court took up the question of whether the exigent circumstances exception applies to warrantless blood draws in 2013, in Missouri v. McNeely. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found that the breakdown of alcohol in the human body over time is not, by itself, an “exigent circumstance” justifying a warrantless blood draw. It did not, however, foreclose all possibility of an exigent circumstance exception in the future.
Continue reading

According to recent media reports, the number of convictions for driving while intoxicated (DWI) in New Jersey is decreasing, at least with regard to cases involving alcohol. The decline reportedly might be due to an increase in DWI cases involving marijuana and other controlled substances. New Jersey law provides no per se standard for impairment by marijuana or other drugs that is comparable to the standard for alcohol. A bill currently pending in the New Jersey Assembly, A2776, would establish a per se standard for marijuana in DWI cases. This bill, if enacted, would probably present both benefits and drawbacks for New Jersey DWI defendants.

New Jersey law creates a presumption of impairment if a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC) is at least 0.08 percent. This is often known as DWI per se. Since no similar standard exists for marijuana and other drugs, prosecutors must rely on testimony from police officers who have received training as “drug recognition experts” (DREs). Typically, a DRE-certified officer observes a defendant during or shortly after their arrest, and then forms an opinion of which substance(s) they took. The use of DRE testimony in court presents problems for defendants, given the wide gulf that often exists between the questionable scientific basis of their training and the weight that courts often give to police officers’ testimony.

Tests for marijuana look for specific compounds in the blood. Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active component of marijuana, but it can dissipate in the bloodstream within a few hours. As the body metabolizes THC, it produces a form of carboxylic acid known as delta 9-carboxy-THC (THC-COOH) as a metabolite. The presence of THC-COOH can determine if someone has recently used marijuana, but it is a less accurate method of establishing actual impairment.

Police, when investigating suspected driving while intoxicated (DWI) cases in New Jersey, must obtain a warrant, or a suspect’s consent, to collect blood samples under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The “exigent circumstances” exception allows warrantless searches when taking the time to obtain a warrant would create a significant risk that evidence will be lost or destroyed. New Jersey courts currently look at the “totality of the circumstances” when considering warrantless blood draws. A recent ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Zalcberg, considers this question in light of recent changes to the law and police officers’ accompanying uncertainty.

The New Jersey DWI statute allows the state to prove impairment based solely on a defendant’s blood alcohol content (BAC), making this sort of evidence very important to the state. Time is an important factor, since alcohol breaks down in the bloodstream over time. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the gradual dissipation of alcohol, by itself, is not an exigent circumstance for Fourth Amendment purposes in 2013’s Missouri v. McNeely.

In 2015’s State v. Adkins, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted a rather narrow view of McNeely’s effect on New Jersey DWI cases. Cases decided after McNeely, including cases that were “in the pipeline” at the time McNeely was decided, are bound by that precedent. New Jersey municipal and trial courts could, however, give “substantial weight” to dissipation in determining whether the exigent circumstances should apply. While dissipation could not qualify as an exception to the warrant requirement on its own, the court effectively said that it was a major circumstance among the totality of the circumstances. This became important in Zalcberg.

New Jersey’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) statute allows law enforcement officials to obtain breath samples, for the purpose of measuring a suspect’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC), without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires police to obtain a warrant, supported by probable cause, before conducting a search. Multiple courts, however, have held that the collection of breath samples falls under an exception to the warrant requirement. One way to explain why a warrant is not required is that people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the contents of their breath. This may seem a bit trite, but it makes some sense when compared to another method of measuring BAC, blood testing. Collection of a blood sample is indisputably invasive, so courts have held that a warrant is required in most cases.

Police do not have to obtain a warrant before conducting a search, according to a long line of court decisions, if “exigent circumstances” exist that risk the imminent loss or destruction of evidence. If, for example, a police officer has reason to believe that a person inside a residence is about to destroy contraband, such as by flushing it down the toilet, courts have held that they may enter the residence for the purpose of securing the contraband. The authority of police officers to search a vehicle without a warrant, known as the vehicular exception, is based on the same principle as exigent circumstances. Since a car is mobile, waiting to obtain a warrant risks the suspect fleeing the scene. An officer must still have probable cause to believe that the car contains contraband or evidence of a crime, but they do not necessarily have to have a warrant.

Drawing blood from a DWI suspect without a warrant, in order to test their BAC, has been justified by exigent circumstances in the past. The U.S. Supreme Court allowed this in its ruling in Schmerber v. California in 1966. The court significantly limited this practice, however, in a 2013 ruling, Missouri v. McNeely. Prosecutors had argued that the human body’s natural process of metabolizing alcohol, meaning that a person’s BAC steadily decreases over time, was an exigent circumstance allowing a warrantless blood draw. The Supreme Court rejected this argument. While it may still be possible to justify a warrantless blood draw based on exigent circumstances, the breakdown of alcohol in the bloodstream cannot, by itself, serve that purpose.

Contact Information