Most New Jersey police departments use a device known as the Alcotest to measure blood alcohol content (BAC) in breath samples submitted by individuals suspected of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Under New Jersey DWI law, a person with BAC of at least 0.08 percent is presumed to be legally impaired. In 2008, we were involved in a case before the New Jersey Supreme Court, State v. Chun, that established statewide procedures for calibrating and maintaining Alcotest devices and administering breath tests. In 2016, a sergeant with the New Jersey State Police was charged with allegedly falsifying Alcotest calibration records. The New Jersey Supreme Court has now effectively tossed out Alcotest results in thousands of cases involving machines under that sergeant’s supervision. The court’s decision in State v. Cassidy, issued on November 13, 2018, is likely to have a substantial impact for months to come.
The Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C requires careful calibration to ensure reliable results. The Chun ruling held that Alcotest results are admissible to establish BAC in DWI cases. It also held, however, that police must follow specific procedures to maintain and calibrate the devices, and that prosecutors must make documentation available about the maintenance and calibration of the device used in each case.
The “0.10 simulator solution” used in Alcotest control tests must be maintained within a specific temperature range. Chun requires measurement of this temperature with a thermometer that is traceable to standards established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). A “Calibration Report” and “Certificate of Analysis of the 0.10 Simulator Solution” are among the “foundational documents” required by Chun to establish an Alcotest device’s accuracy.