More Than 20K DWI Cases Under Review After A State Police Sergeant Accused Of Falsifying Records
TRENTON – More than 20,000 people, who are facing drunken driving charges, are being contacted by prosecutors in New Jersey as their cases are under review.
According to police reports, the decision was taken after a State Police sergeant was accused of falsifying DWI records. The sergeant oversaw breath-testing devices, also known as Alcotest devices.
Letters are being sent to people charged with DWI between the years 2008 to 2016 by county prosecutors. According to the letters, a specially appointed judge will decide whether or not they are entitled to relief. Decisions will be made based on the accusations being faced by the sergeant.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are of the opinion that many cases may be thrown out as a result of the criminal inquiry against the sergeant. However, the issue can result in a number of legal challenges that can take years to sort out.
The issue arose sometime last year during a probe of the State Police drug lab which revealed that Sgt. Marc Dennis lied on official documents about completing a legally required step in re-calibrating the machines. Dennis was a coordinator in the State Police Alcohol Drug Testing Unit, who was given the responsibility to recalibrate the drug testing machines. These devises are used to check the blood-alcohol level of accused drunken drivers.
It was observed that Dennis skipped the step in calibrating three machines. However, the sergeant denies the charges against him.
The criminal accusations against the sergeant raise a cloud of doubt, as the authenticity of every device touched by the trooper is under question now. These devices were used by local police across five different counties.
Letters were sent to DWI defendants in the five counties, namely Monmouth, Somerset, Middlesex, Ocean, and Union counties. The letters stated, “Sergeant Dennis’ alleged false swearing and improper calibrations of these three instruments may call into question all of the calibrations performed by Sergeant Dennis over the course of his career as a coordinator.”
Court records show that Dennis faced multiple charges in September 2016, including second-degree official misconduct, third-degree tampering with public records and fourth degree falsifying records. He was indicted on the same charges in December. However, the misconduct charge was later dropped in June in a second indictment.
According to his attorney, Robert Ebberup, Dennis denied any wrongdoing. Ebberup said that he is sure that his client will be exonerated.
A total of 20,667 cases are under review by Joseph Lisa, a retired appellate judge, who is sorting through the cases affected due to the allegation against the sergeant.
Lisa has been appointed as “special master,” who will rule on whether the alleged charge against Dennis, of failing to perform a preliminary temperature check, would “undermine or call into question the scientific reliability of breath tests subsequently performed” on those devices.
Although the preliminary temperature check was legally required, it was not scientifically necessary, as stated by the Division of Criminal Justice.
Like in most states, the legal limit allowed for driving in the state of New Jersey is 0.08 percent, and anyone registering a BAC of 0.10 or higher will have to face tougher penalties. However, defense attorneys argue that since minor differences of a few decimal points can put someone’s life in jeopardy, the test results become unreliable if protocols weren’t followed when conducting the tests.
A hearing date on the matter is yet to be decided.
Defendants affected by the incident may also file a potential class-action lawsuit against the state in federal court.
News Source: www.NJ.com