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New Jersey court to scrutinize accuracy of breath-testing devices


When police have probable cause to suspect someone is driving while intoxicated, they will likely pull that driver over to conduct field sobriety and breath tests. If a person fails those tests, he or she could be charged for drunk driving.

Although erratic driving before a traffic stop or a failed breath test could be used by prosecutors as evidence during a drunk driving trial, they must be able to withstand scrutiny for the charges to stick. In many cases, breath test results are crucial to the success of a case against a person. If those results aren't accurate, then DWI charges may not stand.

The technology New Jersey law enforcement officials rely on to conduct breath tests, the Alcotest, has been challenged before and the accuracy and reliability of breath-test devices is under fire once again. Five years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court determined that the Alcotest was reliable, but certain changes needed to be made to ensure better results. Now, the court is considering claims that the state never followed through with the court's previous orders to improve the devices.

Already, the court has heard arguments about the efficacy of the Alcotest. Criminal defense attorneys have argued that the failure to modify equipment has led to unreliable test results, so the technology should be scrapped.

Of course, the state has defended its position. Representatives for the state say that software changes are ready to be rolled out and that they are even thinking about using a different kind of testing device. Regardless, those who have been convicted for DWI based on Alcotest technology may have been charged and punished based on flawed test results.

As the state's top court mulls the arguments made before them, New Jersey residents may want to stay tuned to any developments, as they could affect the outcome of past and present trials.

Source: The Associated Press, "DUI tests under scrutiny in N.J. high court," Sept. 10, 2013

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