For the past several years, police officers have relied on evidence collected by the Alcotest 7110 MCIII-C to ensure drunk and drugged driving convictions will be upheld. However, that may all change soon, as the Alcotest device is set to be discontinued later this year.
In 2013, the Attorney General’s Office informed the New Jersey Supreme Court that the device would need to be replaced in 2016 because the warranty would expire during that year. The manufacturer, Draeger Safety, is set to discontinue the product’s technical support as well.
As the discontinuation date draws closer, officials have yet to release any information on what will replace the Alcotest, which leaves New Jersey drivers at a loss with respect to what they may face if they are pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. According to a statement from the office, the attorney general is “in the process of reviewing and addressing” potential issues and replacement ideas. The fact is, they have been “reviewing” the options for several years and have yet to “address” the issue.
New Jersey law enforcement agencies began using the Alcotest in 2005 as a replacement for the long-standing Breathalyzer. The device measures a driver’s blood alcohol content to determine if the driver is over the legal limit of 0.08 percent. In 2008, in State v. Chun, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the Alcotest was scientifically reliable but required some programming changes.
Our attorney, John Dell’Aquilo, represented the State in that case and managed and represented the Alcotest program until 2011. In 2011, the Supreme Court of New Jersey first learned that the device would be discontinued in 2016 when defense attorneys challenged the scientific reliability of the Alcotest. The directives set in State v. Chun required the Alcotest software to be updated regularly, which the defense attorneys argued had not happened.
In response, The Attorney General’s Office conceded that the software had not been updated, but acknowledged that there was no point in making the software update because the device would be discontinued shortly. The manufacturing company, Draeger, stated that it would stop supporting the device this year and advised the state to utilize a third-party software developer.
Options for DUI/DWI Evidence
Currently, the Alcotest is one of the most scientific pieces of evidence that officers can use to prove whether a driver is legally drunk or otherwise intoxicated. If a driver’s blood alcohol content is above the legal limit, he or she can be charged immediately with drunk driving and the evidence can be used in court.
While officers also rely on observational evidence to prove intoxication, like asking drivers to perform field sobriety tests or observing behaviors that may indicate impairment or lack of control, physical evidence such as chemical testing can be damning for a driver.
With the discontinuation of the Alcotest, drivers are facing unknown options for DUI/DWI prosecution. New Jersey drivers can refuse to submit to chemical testing if they are pulled over for suspected drunk or drugged driving, but this is not always the wisest course of action since the penalties for a refusal are sometimes even greater than for the underlying DWI.
Officers will not return to using a Breathalyzer to measure blood alcohol content, as the necessary components for that technology are no longer available.
The State will likely employ a new breath test instrument or just continue to use the Alcotest without a warranty. In the alternative, police may focus on more evidence they can see or observe during the stop, like the smell of booze on a driver’s breath, liquor bottles in the vehicle, swerving or breaking traffic laws.
2016 will bring many changes to drunk driving procedures and drivers should be cautious about how they handle any charges or accusations. For more information, contact the New Jersey DWI attorneys at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.