What Protocol Should Police Follow in Administering the Alcotest?
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The instrument currently being used in New Jersey is the Alcotest 7110 MK-IIIC. Every six months, a New Jersey State police officer, referred to as a coordinator, checks the calibration of the instrument through a process using various strengths of alcohol simulators to make sure the machine is functioning properly. There are basically two critical components in checking the calibration of the instrument: the strength of the simulator solution and the temperature at which that solution is kept. The temperature is 34 degrees Celsius, plus or minus 0.2 degrees Celsius–the supposed temperature of a breath sample coming out of the human body. The coordinator uses a reference simulator solution that yields a vapor concentration of 0.10% as a control and three other simulators containing alcohol solutions yielding a vapor alcohol strength of 0.04, 0.08 and 0.16.
The coordinator will also have a fifth simulator, which has a 0.10 solution that has been assigned to the particular police department that owns the Alcotest instrument that the coordinator is testing. When the coordinator comes in to check the calibration, he will line up these five simulators and put fresh simulator solution into each one. They are basically like peanut butter jars with very fancy lids. What makes the lids fancy is this: a heater that goes into the solution, a port into which the coordinator can insert a temperature probe, and an agitator to keep the alcohol concentration of the liquid solution homogeneous. The coordinator hooks these five simulators up and gets them cooking for about an hour to permit any air bubbles to percolate out of the liquid solution and to make sure that the temperature throughout the solution is the same.
Once he cooks the simulators, protocol requires him to check the temperature of the solutions in each of those simulators with a temperature probe that has been certified to relate back to the national standards. The organization that does that is called the National Institute of Standards and Technology, formerly the National Bureau of Standards. This thermometer that the coordinator uses initially is manufactured by a company called Control Company Inc. The thermometer yields a temperature measured to a degree Celsius, plus or minus 0.01 degrees Celsius. This is a much more precise measurement than that made by the temperature probes associated with the Alcotest instrument, which can only measure 34 degrees, plus or minus 0.2 degrees Celsius.
The fact that you can only measure a temperature with a certain degree of precision is okay because every measuring instrument is never exact. There is always a certain degree of uncertainty. As long as we can define what that uncertainty is, we can consider the results given by that instrument to be scientifically reliable within that degree of uncertainty. The temperature measurements of the temperature probes associated with the Alcotest instrument are compared to those made by the Control Company thermometer. The Control Company’s thermometer temperature measurements have been compared to measurements made by equipment in another laboratory. This equipment can measure temperature with an even greater degree of precision, 34 degrees plus or minus 0.001 degrees, and that laboratory equipment ultimately is compared to a degree of temperature maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
This chain of comparisons with the national standards and the temperature probe associated with the Alcotest instrument assures that the degree of temperature measured by the temperature probe is equivalent to any other degree of temperature measured in forensic science and commerce, provided those other measurements are also traceable to the national standards.
Forer coordinator Sgt. Marc Dennis is accused of not doing the steps that he was required to do as a coordinator. He was required to measure the simulation solution temperature with the Control Company thermometer. If he did not do this, he could not maintain the chain of comparisons necessary to assure that the temperature probes associated with the Alcotest instrument are measuring temperature accurately. The State has alleged that, because he failed to do that step, he has committed certain crimes. One of these crimes was false swearing in terms of the documents he was required to sign indicating that he did that step. Another was misconduct in office.
The consequence to a DWI defendant is that it raises the ability of that defendant to challenge the admissibility of his or her breath test result and compromises the ability of the state to prove that person’s guilt. Only an Alcotest Malfunction Defense Lawyer can understand the malfunction in the calibration of the Alcotest device. Therefore, getting in touch with an Alcotest Refusal Attorney in Asbury Park NJ is very important. Alcotest Refusal Attorneys will be familiar with the local laws in Asbury Park NJ and they will also be aware of how the court system works in the region.
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