20K DWI Cases Could Be Tossed In NJ After Supreme Court Ruling
Over 20,000 people who were accused of DWI in New Jersey could have their cases dismissed based on a Tuesday ruling of the state’s Supreme Court. The high court, in a unanimous ruling found criminal charges against a State Police sergeant in charge of calibrating breath-testing devices and rendered the breath test results from five counties inadmissible as evidence. The court then vacated the conviction of a woman who had pled guilty to a DWI based on a result from one of those machines and had later died while waiting for her legal struggle to conclude.
The court further ordered state authorities to notify anyone whose case involved results from machines that Sgt. Marc Dennis may have handled that their results were not scientifically sound. This decision has opened the floodgates for thousands of people to challenge DWI convictions that have occurred over the past decade.
20K DWI Cases Now In Jeopardy Of Being Tossed
In 2016, Sgt. Marc Dennis was accused of lying on official documents about performing a legally required temperature check while calibrating just three machines, known as Alcotest devices, which gauge the blood-alcohol level of accused drunken drivers. The criminal case against Sgt. Dennis is still pending. This past Tuesday, his attorney stated that the sergeant still maintains his innocence. The accusations called into question any and all test results involving a machine that the Sergeant handled, including devices used by local police in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union counties between 2008 and 2016.
This disclosure prompted a native of New Jersey by the name of Eileen Cassidy to seek to withdraw a guilty plea that she had entered in Spring Lake Municipal Court based on the results of a breath test. Cassidy, however, died of a terminal illness in March but the judges still ruled on the case because of the “significant public importance” of the issue. State authorities maintained that the temperature check that Sgt. Dennis was accused of skipping was one of several redundancies and fail-safes to ensure that the readings are as accurate as possible and omitting that one step did not invalidate the results. They further argued that New Jersey is the only state that requires the step.
The Supreme Court, however decided to side with Judge Joseph Lisa, who was appointed as a special master to handle the issue and found the omission of the step raised substantial doubts about the reliability of the machines. County prosecutors began notifying defendants in 2016 that their cases could potentially be thrown out. However, those cases have been on hold pending the Supreme Court’s ruling. The court ordered state authorities to notify all DWI defendants in the pool of those affected of the decision so that they may take any appropriate action they need.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at an unrelated event Tuesday that his office was reviewing the decision and are still coming up with guidance for county prosecutors and municipal prosecutors who handle many of these cases. It’s unclear how many cases will ultimately be tossed or dismissed as breath tests are an important part of DWI cases. It is best to remember that a person can still be convicted of a DWI without one.
Michael Hobbie who is the Eatontown attorney who represented Cassidy, said the pool of 20,667 DWI cases includes an unknown number of people who may have been acquitted at trial or were convicted on evidence other than a Breathalyzer result such as the observation of officers etc. Additionally, defendants have to come forward to challenge their conviction and because the pool of cases goes back years, the majority of them may have already served their driver’s license suspensions and other penalties in the time that has passed.
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News Source: www.nj.com