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DWI Test Faces Review

TRENTON—Critics of the breath test used in New Jersey drunken-driving cases took aim Tuesday in front of the state’s Supreme Court, arguing that modifications mandated by the court five years ago haven’t been implemented by the state and that the test should be scrapped.

At issue is Alcotest, the machine that began to replace the old Breathalyzer machines beginning in 2001. A lawsuit brought by 20 people charged with DWI who challenged the results of the test succeeded in halting the use of the machine in 2006. A 2008 Supreme Court decision that called Alcotest “generally scientifically reliable” and allowed the machine to be used, with some modifications, but required the state to make software changes in the machines and create a centralized statewide database of Alcotest results that would be available to defendants and their attorneys.

Attorney Evan Levow, who represents drunken driving defendants, said, “Alcotest is scientifically unreliable because the state never made the changes.”

Arguing for the state, Deputy Attorney General Robyn Mitchell said the software modifications required in the 2008 ruling are included in the new version of the Alcotest that hasn’t yet been rolled out.

The court could rule that the current version of Alcotest is acceptable or that the new version should be implemented, or it could appoint a special master as it did before its 2008 ruling to review the machine’s reliability.