Trenton, NJ – Upwards of 20,000 DWI cases in New Jersey are potentially tainted after a judicial review found “substantial doubts” about the reliability of breathalyzer tests due to the alleged misconduct of a state trooper whose job included assuring the accuracy of Alcotest devices used in five counties over an eight-year period.
A 200-page report released by the state judiciary, written by Judge Joseph Lisa, explained that the actions of Sgt. Marc Dennis created a “reasonably plausible” likelihood that the convictions were not legitimate.
In total, some 20,667 DWI cases could potentially be affected.
The judicial report was focused on the actions of Dennis, a coordinator in the State Police Alcohol Drug Testing Unit whose responsibilities included verifying the accuracy of breath-tests that gauge the blood-alcohol level of accused drunken drivers, in relation to accusations of lying about performing required procedures while calibrating the machines.
A report from NJ.com explains:
In 2016, Dennis was accused of lying on official documents about performing a legally required temperature check while calibrating just three machines, known as Alcotest devices, which gauge the blood-alcohol level of accused drunken drivers.
The accusations called into question any test result involving a machine the sergeant handled, including devices used by local police in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union counties between 2008 and 2016.
State prosecutors notified the judiciary in September 2016 of the accusations and requested a special judge be appointed to review the tens of thousands of cases involved.
County prosecutors began notifying defendants in October that their cases could be tossed because of the scandal.
The State Attorney General’s Office took the position that although the temperature check Dennis was accused of skipping and falsifying was part of the rules for use of breath-testing devices— as required by the state Supreme Court— there was no scientific necessity to do so. However, the judicial report by Judge Lisa maintained that the state “failed to clearly and convincingly prove” that the failure to perform the required step didn’t taint the results.
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the AG’s Office, said that his office was “reviewing the report and will be preparing to address this before the Supreme Court.”
The Tormey Law Firm noted:
New Jersey has stringent requirements when it comes to proper calibration and maintenance of all Alcotest 7110 devices. This is essential because the results of the Alcotest reading in a DWI case are typically used as evidence to establish that the driver was, in fact, intoxicated. A breath test result at 0.08 or above can land you in serious trouble. You could lose your license for up to 1 year for a first DWI offense and the penalties worsen from there if you have any prior DWI convictions.
The purpose of the Alcotest is to provide an accurate reading of the driver’s blood alcohol content. This requires extreme precision, as the difference between a 0.07 and a 0.08 BAC can mean being charged with DWI or not. Based on the necessity for accuracy in DWI breath test readings, failure to properly calibrate an Alcotest machine can be used as an argument to get the breath test results thrown out and ultimately, to get DWI charges dismissed. In this case, Judge Lisa’s review of Sergeant Dennis’s conduct left “substantial doubts” about the reliability of breath test results in the thousands of DWI cases that used Alcotest machines he was responsible for maintaining.
A report by News 12 notes that Dennis faces charges of third-degree tampering for his alleged falsification of official documents. The state Supreme Court will hold formal proceedings in the case, according to NJ.com.