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.

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Scientists Still Looking For A Reliable DUI Test For Marijuana

Recent years have seen numerous milestones when it comes to the use of marijuana and it’s perception around the United States. Not only is Marijuana nearly as socially accepted as alcohol in today’s world, its recreational use is now legal in six states, including Colorado. Ironically, its legal status creates a new problem for law enforcement, stopping and charging drivers high on marijuana.

“It’s a brave new world,” declared Chris Halsor, a Denver lawyer and former prosecutor in reference to Colorado’s recent laws which legalize marijuana’s recreational use.

To train law enforcement for this new problem, police officers are partaking in new training exercises and activities which would help them better identify drivers high on marijuana. One such training exercise took place in spring this year with 16 state patrol officers from Colorado and Wyoming. The exercise involved the officers going shopping at legal marijuana dispensaries to examine different marijuana products and paraphernalia.

The second part of the exercise involved four volunteers consuming large quantities of marijuana provided by law enforcement. The point of this part of the exercise was to show the officers signs of marijuana inebriation and to gauge whether tests they use to identify drunk drivers also work on drivers who are high on marijuana. The results lacked consistency though, because all the volunteers performed differently on different tests. For example, a volunteer named Christine did well on math but didn’t do well on tests such as balancing, remembering instructions or measuring time. Officers also decided that if they had pulled Christine over, they would have arrested her because she would be a danger behind the wheel. However, they couldn’t say the same for other participants who had smoked just as much marijuana.

The problem with marijuana is that despite the increasingly legal use of cannabis in many states, police officers still don’t have the equivalent of a reliable alcohol breathalyzer or blood test — a chemically based method of estimating the level of inebriation caused by the drug. A blood test exists that can detect some of marijuana’s components. However, in case of marijuana, there is no widely accepted, standardized amount in the breath or blood that gives police or courts a good sense of who is considered impaired. Hence, the decision of whether to charge someone for driving while under the influence of cannabis is up to the police officers best guess.

There is a national effort underway by scientists to create a device that would work the same way for marijuana as breathalyzers do for alcohol. One of these is chemical engineer Tara Lovestead, who is working on setting chemical standards for what a marijuana detection test might require. However, Lovesteads’ research is hindered by the federal scheduling of the drug. Since cannabis is still a schedule 1 drug, meaning the federal government considers it a substance “with no medical use with a high potential of abuse,” she cannot use marijuana for her research, despite the fact that her research facility is located in Colorado.

“We cannot use the stuff down the street,” bemoaned Lovestead.

In states like Colorado, there is a THC blood test that law enforcement uses to show “presumed” impairment. If a person has more than 5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, a court or jury can infer them to be impaired.

But Lovestead and others maintain that, scientifically speaking, that figure is quite meaningless.

“We just don’t know whether or not that means they’re still intoxicated, or impaired or not,” she said. “There’s no quantitative measure that could stand up in a court of law.”

Whereas ethanol, the chemical in alcoholic drinks is water soluble and is hence quickly distributed throughout the body and flushed from the body after a few hours, THC is fat soluble and can linger in the body’s fat stores for a long time, depending on a number of variables.

One particular marijuana study involved 30 frequent marijuana users staying at a facility with no access to marijuana for a month. Researchers saw that the heavy users were showing levels above 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood for several days after they had ceased using marijuana.

“And it shocked everyone, including ourselves, that we could measure, in some of these individuals, THC in the blood for 30 days,” says Marilyn Huestis, a toxicologist with the University of Maryland School of Medicine who recently retired from leading a lab at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

On the other hand, another study showed that people who weren’t regular users could smoke a joint right in front of the researchers and show no evidence of cannabis in their blood reports.

So, in addition to being invasive and impractical, a blood test is also a poor measure for how inebriated a person is from marijuana use. In light of this, some scientists have turned to breath testing in hopes of creating something of use. Companies such as Cannabix Technologies and Hound Labs are currently in the process of creating devices that can measure the concentration of THC in a person’s breath to check if they have recently smoked marijuana. This is a difficult task as THC and other compounds present in cannabis have a very fleeting existence in the air. Luckily, Tara Lovestead specializes in finding trace quantities of compounds in the air. She and her team have worked on methods to use tiny air samples to detect evidence of arson, buried bodies and hidden explosives. Marijuana is the next challenge.

As things are progressing right now, the decision to charge drivers with being high on cannabis rests with the police officers best guess.

“It’s one of those subjective areas,” says Colorado State Patrol officer Rich Armstrong.

“It’s too subjective,” argues Tara Lovestead.

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Woman Dies In Hudson County Jail While Serving 6 Month DWI Sentence

KEARNY – According to officials, 48-year-old Jennifer Towle died at the Hudson County Jail at about 2 a.m. on Friday while serving a 180-day DWI sentence.

Details of her death were announced by the Hudson County spokesman, Jim Kennelly, who said that Towle died at the jail’s infirmary. He further said that Towle was serving a six-month sentence for a DWI charge out of Weehawken Municipal Court.

According to sources, Towle was near the end of her sentence at the time of her death. Later on, an autopsy released that she had a head injury and pieces of plastic in her stomach.

The county jail has already been facing scrutiny for the quality of medical services it provides to its inmates and Towle’s death adds to it. Just last month, an immigrant detainee also died at the county jail as a result of “gastrointestinal bleeding.”

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18-Year-Old Teenager Charged With Drunken Driving In Wrong-Way Crash On Route 23

PEQUANNOCK – 18-year-old Rachel M. Narine, of Edison, is facing multiple charges after she was involved in a wrong-way head-on crash on Route 23 north, just before the Newark Pompton Turnpike intersection, while driving intoxicated.

According to the police, Narine was charged with driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, assault by auto, and underage driving while intoxicated. She also violated the provisional license driving hours and was driving the wrong way on a highway. The incident took place on Memorial Day, Monday 29 May, at 3:05 am.

Based on the investigation, police determined that Narine was driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes when she hit an oncoming vehicle head-on. The driver of the vehicle involved in the crash was complaining of leg pain and was taken to Chilton Medical Center for treatment.

When police arrived, they observed signs of intoxication from Narine. She was also taken to the hospital as a precaution.

Narine was charged with the above listed charges and was later released pending a court appearance.

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50-Year-Old New Jersey Man With 6 Dwis Accused Of Hitting Pedestrian While Driving Drunk

50-year-old Larry D. Wooten, of Newark, was accused of hitting a pedestrian while driving under the influence of alcohol in New York.

Wooten, who has a history of driving under the influence, was arrested for allegedly being drunk as he drove into a 46-year-old woman who was crossing a street in Long Beach on Long Island. The incident took place just before 1 a.m. on Monday. The victim suffered minor injuries in the incident.

His past record shows that Wooten has six previous drunken driving convictions. According to his record, his license has been suspended or revoked eight times in the past.

Wooten was charged with drunk driving six times in the past and has six convictions on his record. His driver’s license has been suspended or revoked eight times.

In Long Island, Wooten faced multiple charges including driving while intoxicated with previous convictions, unlicensed operation and driving without an interlock device.

A call made to Long Beach police seeking additional information on the incident was not immediately returned.

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Franklin Park Man Accused Of Driving A Backhoe While Drinking Beer Faces 9th DWI Charge

SOUTH BRUNSWICK – A 56-year-old Franklin Park man named William Campbell was arrested for driving a backhoe drunk in South Brunswick Wednesday evening.

According to police reports, this was Campbell’s 9th DWI charge. He was allegedly driving a backhoe erratically through the township while drinking a beer.

According to Capt. James Ryan, Campbell was arrested Wednesday evening following an accident on Promenade Boulevard where he flipped his pick-up truck.

South Brunswick officers found Campbell five blocks away from the scene of the accident just after 6 p.m.

Police received multiple calls from residents about a bulldozer that was driving erratically in the area. Ryan stated that Campbell had allegedly parked the tractor and then started driving his pick-up truck.

Campbell was taken to a nearby hospital in Princeton for treatment of minor injuries. Luckily, no other vehicles were involved in the accident.

Campbell was charged Friday with driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended license. Earlier in December, Campbell was arrested on similar charges after he was pulled over by the police when he was driving a backhoe in town. According to police reports, Campbell was “swerving all over the road” and drinking a beer.

Authorities also stated that Campbell didn’t have a valid driver’s license at the time. He faced multiple charges including driving while intoxicated along with several other violations. That case is still pending.

According to authorities, Campbell has seven DWI convictions on his record dating back to 1980.

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Cop Charged With Drunk Driving Previously Suspended After Off-Duty Crash

MILLVILLE– Authorities told that Dept. Michael McLaughlin, who was previously accused of DWI, is under investigation as he got involved in an off-duty car accident on the weekend.

He is suspended while the department is waiting for the investigation outcome. Millville Police Department and Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office collaborated for the investigation of the case.

The accident happened at about 11 p.m. on Friday, when the detective was travelling in the area of West Main Street and Lisa Marie Terrace.

It is not confirmed whether anyone sustained injury in the accident or if there was any passenger in the vehicle.

On 3rd of September 2014, he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving.

McLaughlin has been working with the Millville Police Department since the past 5 years. He was travelling with another officer on Carmel Road when his vehicle got out of control as he was behind the wheel and crashed into St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church.

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Prosecutors Try For More Prison Time For Actress In Fatal DWI In Second Appeal

SOMERVILLE – According to court documents, the Prosecution has asked in its second appeal to the Appellate Division that a different judge be assigned to the case of former “Melrose Place” actress, Amy Locane, to revisit the sentencing.

Matthew Murphy, Assistant Prosecutor at Somerset County, claimed in the latest appeal that Superior Court Judge Robert B. Reed was twice too lenient in sentencing Locane in the June 2010 drunk-driving crash that killed Helene Seeman. The latest appeal stated that Reed sentenced Locane “illegally” and “abused his discretion.” The Prosecutor also charged that he wants the sentence “revised and remanded.”

44-year-old Locane was paroled in June 2015 after serving two and a half years in prison for her conviction. She was facing vehicular homicide and assault by auto charges.

Locane’s conviction was downgraded from a second degree offense to a third degree offense at her first sentencing by Reed. This gave her 3 years on both offenses which were to run concurrently. Even though Reed said in September that she should have been required to serve all three years before being paroled, he recanted his statement during the sentencing in January. He also stated that he sentenced Locane in accordance with the law at that time. The law has changed on the state and federal level since then, stated Reed.

The Assistant Prosecutor has been seeking a 7 year prison term for Reed with 85 percent of the term to be served before being eligible for parole. He was also seeking an additional nine-month term for assault by auto.

The decision taken by Reed in January’s hearing again angered the family of the victim as well as the prosecution who immediately vowed to file an appeal. The husband of the victim, Fred Seeman, said following the January hearing, “The judge bent over backwards to let her walk free.”

A civil case between Locane and the Seeman family is still pending.

The spokesman for the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, Capt. Jack Bennett, said that his office had no comment on the latest appeal. On the other hand, Reed cited that the actress’ incarceration would have a strong impact on her two young children, which was the reason for handing down a lesser sentence in the first place.

Reed was asked by the Appellate Division in July 2016 to explain the reason behind considering a lighter sentence following the prosecutor’s initial appeal. The Appellate Division said that Reed’s sentence lacked enough explanation and was inappropriate.

In the hearing held on 13 January, Reed defended his sentence saying that Locane’s post-conviction conduct has been exemplary and that there was no need to have her return to prison. Reed also stated that Locane did not pose any danger to the society and that there was no threat that she would repeat the offense.

In a recent speech given at William Paterson University, Locane shared her story with others as a cautionary tale.

A new hearing date before the Appellate Division has yet to be scheduled.

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Drunk Driver Gets 5 Years In Fatal Woodbridge Wrong-Way Crash

NEW BRUNSWICK – 29-year-old Andrew Frazell of Newton was sentenced Friday to serve 5 years in prison.

According to a statement by the Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, Frazell was driving under the influence of alcohol when he struck another vehicle, resulting in the death of both occupants. The incident took place on 10 July, 2014 when he drove his Jeep Liberty the wrong way onto an exit ramp along the Garden State Parkway.

He then crashed into a Honda Accord, killing 42-year-old Deron McGuire who was driving the Accord. 36-year-old Lucian Roberson of Hackensack, a passenger in the Accord was also killed in the accident.

Frazell’s blood alcohol content was found to be 0.162 after the incident, well above the legal limit of 0.08% for driving.

Frazell is required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence before he is eligible for parole. Once he is released from prison, his driver’s license will also be suspended for five years.

Frazell pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular homicide in September.


Montvale Police Officer Reportedly Pleads Guilty To Drunken Driving

PEQUANNOCK – According to a police report, Herminio Amado, a Montvale police officer, admitted to being drunk when he was found asleep behind the wheel of his luxury car last year in Morris County.

Amado’s driver’s license was suspended for seven months. However, his lawyer appealed a pretrial ruling which permitted an alcohol influence report to be entered as evidence, allowing him to continue driving. That appeal remains pending.

Amado was found dozing in a black BMW on the side of Route 23 south in June by Pequannock police. The prosecutor said that his blood alcohol content was recorded at 0.18 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit.

Adado pleaded guilty to drunken driving on Monday, despite the fact that his attorney had previously said that too little time had elapsed between the breath tests which were given to his client.

Amado has been a cop since 2012. He is the president of the Montvale chapter of the Policeman’s Benevolent Association. Police records show that he made $88,172 last year.

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