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20,000 DWI cases in NJ closer to possibly being thrown out

DUI Checkpoints During Holiday Season in NJ
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More than 20,000 people charged with drunk driving in New Jersey are closer to having their cases appealed or thrown out as a result of a state trooper being charged with mishandling alcohol breath-test devices in 2015.

County prosecutors have been informing people who were charged with DWI that their cases are under review, NJ.com first reported Friday.

The letters to more than 20,000 people charged with DWI in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset and Union counties between 2008 and 2016 is the latest development in the scandal involving State Police Sgt. Marc Dennis, who last year was accused of skipping a step in the six-month recalibration process needed to make sure that the Alcotest breathalyzers function properly.

He was originally charged with second-degree official misconduct, third-degree tampering with public records and fourth-degree falsifying records. NJ.com reported that the most serious official misconduct charge was dropped earlier this year. Dennis has denied any wrongdoing.

Last year, an Ocean County woman filed a potential class-action lawsuit in the state that called into question more than 20,000 DWI cases tied to Dennis, including her own conviction after a machine found that her blood-alcohol content was just a point above the legal limit. That litigation is now on hold as the courts work through a potential upheaval caused by Dennis’s alleged botching of the process.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court appointed a retired Superior Court judge to review whether any DWI cases could potentially be dismissed as a result of being linked to one of the devices that Dennis calibrated.

The state Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that breathalyzer results are admissible scientific evidence as long as police adhere to procedures that ensure that the devices take accurate readings. The most recent calibration reports and the credentials of the coordinator who performed the test have to be entered into evidence along with the BAC reading.

The breath tests are not the only forensic evidence being called into question in the state.

Last year, a forensic scientist with the State Police North Regional Laboratory was charged with falsely reporting marijuana results on evidence that he hadn’t actually tested. The lab was involved in an estimated 8,000 drug prosecutions in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren counties. The state Supreme Court also appointed a special judge to review those drug cases.

A letter this month from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office to DWI defendants advises them to contact an attorney if they believe they are “presently suffering any adverse consequences” from their DWI convictions or pending case.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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