A state police technician’s errors in calibrating Alcotest drunken-driving testers could call into question the validity of up to 20,000 breath tests performed on defendants, a special master has reported to the New Jersey Supreme Court after a yearlong study.
The failure to use the type of thermometer specified by the Supreme Court in State v. Chun, its landmark 2008 ruling finding the Alcotest 7110 scientifically reliable, “raises substantial doubts about the scientific reliability of breath test results produced by Alcotest devices calibrated without use of a NIST-[National Institute of Science and Technology] traceable thermometer,” former Presiding Appellate Division Judge Joseph Lisa said in a 218-page report issued to the Supreme Court.
The study was prompted by the discovery that State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis performed calibrations of Alcotest devices over the course of seven years in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties with a thermometer that was not the NIST-traceable type specified in Chun.
In light of the revelations about Dennis’ use of the wrong thermometer, the attorney general sought changes to the rules mandating a NIST-traceable thermometer. The Supreme Court asked Lisa in April 2017 to make findings of fact and conclusions of law on the question of “Does the failure to test the simulator solutions with the NIST-traceable digital thermometer before calibrating an Alcotest machine undermine or call into question the scientific reliability of breath tests subsequently performed on the Alcotest machine?”
The state’s bid for a relaxation of the thermometer standard appears to have suffered a setback, but the decision ultimately lies with the Supreme Court.
“Based on my findings of fact and my analysis of them, I conclude that the state has failed to clearly and convincingly prove that the failure to prove that the failure to perform the NIST thermometer test does not undermine and call into question the good working order of the Alcotest instrument,” Lisa said in the report.