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Alcotest to Stay until Alternative is Found

October 31, 2013 | Posted In Drunk Driving, Recent News - DUI/DWI

A recent ruling from the state Supreme Court is keeping Alcotest on the list of approved law enforcement tactics to combat drunk driving, DUI lawyers in New Jersey say. Last month, the court ruled that police officers will be allowed to keep using Alcotest, a device that measures a driver’s blood alcohol content, until a suitable alternative can be found and implemented. 

The decision comes as an unwelcome surprise to drunk driving defense attorneys around the state, many of whom have filed claims regarding the test’s illegitimate use in recent years. In their claims, defense attorneys say that the departments did not implement several software changes, despite a court order in the 2008 case State v. Chun that approved the initial use of Alcotest devices. The courts also mandated that the state maintain a database of drunk driving cases, an order that attorneys claim has been disregarded as well. Several members of the defense bar also believe the test to be scientifically unreliable, and asked the courts to consider going back to old-fashioned methods of observing the driver’s eyes, smelling alcohol, and performing roadside tests such as asking the driver to walk in a straight line, or say the alphabet backwards, until a new device could be approved. 

Draeger Safety Diagnostics, the test’s manufacturer, told state law enforcement that the effectiveness of Alcotest 7110 can only be guaranteed until 2016, and the state Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for use until the end of the guarantee period. The court found Alcotest to be scientifically reliable in determining how much alcohol a driver has consumed, and whether they are driving above the legal limit. They also ruled that New Jersey had complied with the request for a database, and removed the state’s obligation to upgrade or change the device’s software. 

The high court also found that they could not support claims that the state knowingly and willfully refused to comply with the instructions from five years earlier, but they did allow one long-awaited concession to drunk driving defense attorneys. The 2008 ruling changed the minimum breath sample for women aged 60 and over from 1.5 liters to 1.2 liters, based on their smaller lung capacities. In last month’s decision, the Supreme Court said that law enforcement officials cannot charge women over 60 with refusing to take a chemical test if their arrests are based on improper breath samples. 

John Hoffman, New Jersey’s acting Attorney General, says that although his office will be searching for an adequate replacement for Alcotest before 2016, he is glad the Supreme Court will continue to use Alcotest as a scientifically reliable device to measure blood alcohol content in suspected drunk drivers. Alcotest has been a source of disagreement for the last five years, and its last few years of use will keep New Jersey DUI/DWI lawyers focused on defending drivers who have been charged. 

The drunk driving attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, represent anyone who is facing charges for drunk driving based on Alcotest results at the scene of a crime, traffic stop, or accident. 

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