New Jersey

Over 20,000 New Jersey Drunk-Driving Cases Might Be Tossed Due to Uncalibrated Breath Tests

New Jersey State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis was charged with falsifying records.

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|||Lisa F. Young/Dreamstime.com
Lisa F. Young/Dreamstime.com

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that breathalyzer evidence from more than 20,000 drunk driving cases is inadmissable due to a calibration error.

For seven years, State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis was in charge of calibrating Alcotest machines in five counties. The machines were used to test drivers' blood alcohol content. In 2016, Dennis was charged with falsifying records because he did not use a thermometer to check that the control solution used for calibration was at body temperature.

Calibrating the machines correctly matters quite a bit, as testing at a 0.08 blood alcohol content versus a 0.10 carries different fines and license suspension times. While the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice claimed that the temperature test was was not needed for accurate calibration, it is legally required.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the criminal charges against Dennis made the test results used in each case inadmissible and ordered that prosecutors inform defendants of the ruling. According to New Jersey DWI lawyer Andres Mejer, the cases can now be challenged or reopened in court. A federal class action lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of the individuals involved. The suit requests compensation for attorney fees, refunds for paid fines, and record expungement.

Field tests fail more than you probably realize. A North Carolina sheriff's office celebrated a massive fentanyl bust after crime scene investigators tested substances during a raid. Months later, a private lab found the substance to be white sugar.

NEXT: Checks and Balances

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  1. after crime scene investigators tested substances during a raid.

    At least that’s what they told everyone.

  2. [nelson laugh]

  3. Why are people in NYC so pissed off all the time?

    The light at the end of the tunnel is NJ.

  4. Throw ’em all in the slammer! Let God work it out!

  5. State authorities maintained that the temperature check Dennis was accused of skipping was one of several “redundancies and fail-safes” to ensure the readings are accurate and that omitting that one step did not invalidate the results. New Jersey is the only state that requires the step, they argued.

    I’m surprised the old “no harm, no foul” rule they frequently use to excuse government wrong-doing didn’t work in this case. And it sure is going to be tough to fire this cop regardless of whether or not he winds up behind bars for falsifying records when the cop union can simply point to the state itself arguing that he didn’t really do anything wrong.

  6. Don’t know about elsewhere, but in my state if you get charged based on a breathalyser (or any other machine) you can request the calibration and test records for the machine used. If the cops can’t produce it, the case gets tossed.

    1. The problem here is that NJ could produce the calibration and test records for the machines, it’s just that they were falsified calibration and test records.

    2. It’s the same situation with radar guns being calibrated. If not calibrated correctly all speeding tickets “proven” by the radar gun gets tossed.

  7. Police should not be forced into the humiliating process of calibrated breath test because its so degrading to our law enforcement officers.
    The cops should just shoot anyone who has booze on their breath after they stop the driver.
    That’s why the police have guns and badges.

  8. Unless you were driving your ass out of New Jerksey when stopped, I have no sympathy. You got the state you deserve.

  9. But is NJ going to give back all that money collected for fines, attorney fees, etc?

  10. What about the huge increase in insurance premiums that these people suffered?

  11. Will this help anyone who pled guilty?

  12. On a slightly different topic, does libertarianism say that we should be allowed to drive drunk and only be penalized if we cause harm as a result?

    1. ^ This. Pre-crime crime.

  13. Hopefully this will cost the Peoples Republic of New Jersey a boatload of money.

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