Court: Alcotest Reliable But Not Necessary for Drunk Driving Conviction

The State Appellate Division recently confirmed that the high-tech Alcotest to determine a person’s blood alcohol level is not necessary to proving a drunk driving case. In fact, a person suspected of driving under the influence can be convicted solely on the results of field testing, according to the court. (1) If after reading the following, you need a Hunterdon County lawyer that can assist you with a similar situation regarding drunk driving laws in New Jersey, contact DWI attorneys Ragland Law Firm located in Lebanon, New Jersey, on Route 22 in the westbound lane.

The case dates back to October 2008 and involves a woman who was stopped in Manchester Township for driving erratically. The woman admitted to having two glasses of wine but said her swerving was caused by reaching down to retrieve something she had dropped. Roadside sobriety tests were administered and the woman failed. She was then brought to the police station where she agreed to take an Alcotest, which showed her blood alcohol level to be 0.15. (1) The legal limit in New Jersey is 0.08. (2)

The woman blamed her poor performance on the sobriety tests, which included walking a straight line heel-to-toe and maintaining balance with feet together and while standing on one foot as directed, on her Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder, and the fact she was wearing high heels at the time. Her lawyers questioned the validity of the Alcotest since the officer who administered it had not observed her for the required 20 minutes prior to testing. As a result, they said the test results should not be considered.(1) The 20-minute observation period is intended to ensure the suspect does nothing that could alter the results of the test. (3)

The Alcotest, which replaced the former Breathalyzer standard several years ago, is a fully-automated test that uses computer software to determine a person’s blood alcohol level. Initially there was much controversy surrounding the accuracy of the Alcotest. The State Supreme Court commissioned a study conducted by a retired Appellate Division judge who found the test to be much more accurate than the Breathalyzer standard. Based on those findings, the State Supreme Court has ruled that results from Alcotests are reliable. (4)

The above case initially was heard at the municipal level where the Alcotest results were deemed admissible, since it was determined that the officer administering the test did not have to be the same person who observed the suspect for the required time period. As the case progressed to the State Superior Court level, the prosecutor said that, due to the confusion over whether or not the observation period was monitored properly, he could not rely on the Alcotest. (1)

The Appellate Division concluded that the Alcotest is not necessary when there is sufficient evidence to convince the court that the defendant is guilty as charged. Such evidence includes the results of the field testing and the observations of the officer making the traffic stop. (1)

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in New Jersey that carries fines ranging from $300 to $500 for a first offense, up to $1,000 for repeated offenses, plus additional fees and possible jail time. (2) Laws regarding DUI’s can be complicated and the penalties severe. If you or someone you know is involved in a DUI case in Hunterdon County, contact the lawyers at Ragland Law Firm.

(1) http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202537242051&Woman_Convicted_of_DWI_Without_Alcotest_Loses_High_Heels_Defense&slreturn=1

(2) http://www.nj.gov/mvc/Violations/dui.htm

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/12/state_court_rules_with_police.html

(4) http://www.totaldui.com/news/articles/breathalyzer/new-jersey-alcotest.aspx