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Why are over 20,000 DUI cases in New Jersey being called into question?

While the results of breathalyzer tests are admissible as scientific evidence in DUI cases in New Jersey, the state Supreme Court ruled in a 2008 case, State v. Chun, that certain criteria must be satisfied in order for this to happen. Indeed, the device must be functional, both regularly inspected and properly calibrated, and administered by a certified operator acting in accordance with established procedure.

Furthermore, in order for the breathalyzer test results to be admissible, the court in Chun ruled they must be entered into evidence with the most recent calibration reports and the credentials of the law enforcement official who administered the test.

In a rather fascinating story, an Ocean County woman has now filed a class action lawsuit in a federal district court here in New Jersey alleging that the improper calibration of breathalyzers by a State Police sergeant resulted in potentially botched readings in thousands of DUI cases.

What is the background on these botched readings?

Back in September, the state Attorney General's Office brought records tampering charges against the aforementioned State Police sergeant. Specifically, the state is alleging that he skipped a vital step in the mandatory six-month recalibration of at least three Alcotest instruments.

These improperly calibrated instruments, say the state, may have been used in over 20,600 DUI cases in the counties of Union, Somerset, Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex.

What exactly does the lawsuit allege?

The lead plaintiff in the case, which was filed last month, was placed under arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence in Ocean County in 2015. She was later administered an Alcotest at the precinct, which revealed her blood alcohol content to be .09, just a bit over the legal limit of .08.

She eventually pleaded guilty to DUI charges and saw her driver's license suspended for three months. In the lawsuit, which alleges multiple due process violations under the 14th Amendment, she argues that never would have taken this action had she been aware of the allegations against the sergeant.

"[The plaintiff and others] have reason to call into question the accuracy and integrity of all the state's Alcotest results obtained from Alcotest instruments allegedly calibrated or recalibrated," reads the complaint.

What sort of relief is the plaintiff seeking?

In addition to having her own conviction tossed and seeking unspecified monetary damages, the plaintiff is requesting court orders forcing the state to examine all of the 20,600-plus cases potentially affected by the State Police sergeant's actions and to undertake the necessary remedial measures in the event any irregularities are uncovered (convictions reversed, fines refunded, records cleared, prosecutions dropped, etc.).

This is a truly fascinating case that could have a profound impact on the legal landscape here in the Garden State, stay tuned for developments.

If you've been charged with DUI, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can protect your rights and your reputation as soon as possible.

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