Evidence from blood alcohol content (BAC) tests cannot be suppressed in a drunk driving case simply because the police did not provide the test results to the driver as soon as they were available, according to a recent ruling from the New Jersey appeals court.
In State v. Sorensen, the three-judge panel made a unanimous decision that the results of an Alcotest could still be used, even though the defendant, Gale Sorensen, did not get a copy of the Alcohol Influence Report (AIR).
According to the New Jersey State Police’s Alcohol Drug Testing Unit (ADTU), defendants should be given a copy of their blood test results if they have been charged with drinking and driving. The state attorney general has also recommended that the results be made available to those charged with DUIs.
However, the appellate judges ruled that these recommendations were not enough in Sorensen’s case, even though she did not receive a copy of her test results while she was at the police station for processing.
New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.2) does not require police to turn over BAC test results to defendants unless the defendant specifically requests them. In most cases, the defendant will receive a copy, but this is not a legal stipulation. Appellate Judge George Leone wrote that if the state legislators intended to make it a requirement, the law would not state that copies must be provided “on request.”
What Happened in Sorensen?
In 2013, Sorensen was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after an officer witnessed her drifting between lanes and failing to use a turn signal. When he pulled her over, the officer stated that he smelled alcohol in the car and her eyes were watery and bloodshot.
Sorensen failed several sobriety tests during the stop, and at the police station, she submitted to an Alcotest, which recorded her BAC as 0.12 percent. The arresting officer provided a copy of the results to his supervisor, but not to Sorensen.
At her trial, Sorensen was convicted under the observational standard and was sentenced to a three-month license suspension and $250 fine. She moved to suppress the BAC results because she had not been given a copy. The Superior Court judge granted her motion, using a state Supreme Court decision from 2008. In State v. Chun, the Supreme Court justices ruled that Alcotest operators “must retain a copy of the AIR and give a copy to the arrestee.”
The state appealed this decision and questioned the application of Chun to Sorensen’s case. Judge Leone said that the Supreme Court decision was made as part of a “technical discussion, not a legal” one, based on the Alcotest’s operation. The decision did not set the requirement for officers to provide defendants with their test results.
Additionally, the appellate court found that the test results were not invalidated simply because Sorensen did not receive them. However, the judges urged all law enforcement officials to provide DWI arrestees with their BAC reports to avoid future conflicts.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey DUI attorneys represent drivers who have been arrested for drunk or drugged driving. If you feel that your DUI arrest has been mishandled, contact one of our HCK attorneys today for a consultation.