New Jersey Supreme Court Rules as Many as 20,000 DWI Convictions May Be Eligible to Be Overturned

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The New Jersey Supreme Court recently published a decision that calls the validity of more than 20,000 DWI convictions into question. The defense attorneys at Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. believe the court’s decision could have wide-ranging impacts for individuals with DWI and certain non-DWI convictions.

On Tuesday, November 13, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case of State v. Eileen Cassidy (A-58-16) (078390) that may allow as many as 20,667 individuals convicted of DWI to challenge their convictions. The ruling is the result of the court’s determination that New Jersey State Police Sergeant Marc Dennis’s mishandling of Alcotest breath test devices raises “substantial doubts” about the reliability of arrestees’ breath test results.

The NJ Supreme Court’s decision applies to DWI convictions resulting from arrests in Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, Somerset, and Union Counties during the period from 2008 through 2016, although Ron Helmer of Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. believes that individuals convicted in other counties could potentially be impacted as well. Helmer believes the decision could also impact individuals with subsequent DWI convictions as well as non-DWI convictions related to their prior DWI arrests, such as driving on a suspended license. According to court papers, individuals impacted by the court’s decision should receive notification of their right to challenge their convictions from state authorities; however, those who believe they may be eligible for relief do not need to wait to take legal action.

According to news reports, Sergeant Dennis is, “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 accusations call into question any test result involving a machine Dennis handled.” Despite state authorities’ claims that the temperature check was redundant and would not have impacted the Alcotest’s reliability, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that all test results obtained from the mishandled devices are now legally inadmissible in court.

According to the Supreme Court’s written opinion, the decision does not mean that all DWI convictions from 2008 through 2016 in the relevant counties will be vacated immediately. Instead, individuals convicted during this time period will need to file formal challenges in court and demonstrate that the admission of their breath test results led to their convictions. Individuals who were convicted based on other evidence (such as the arresting officer’s observations during their traffic stop) will not be eligible for relief.

“For those who are eligible, the Supreme Court’s decision is a significant development,” Helmer said. “In New Jersey, DWI convictions are not eligible for expungement, and a DWI can have far-reaching implications from the cost of car insurance to the ability to pursue certain employment opportunities.” As a result, even those who have fully served their sentences should still consult with an attorney about seeking to have their convictions overturned, Helmer explained.

What Individuals Who are Affected by the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Decision Can Do

All individuals who are interested in finding out if they are eligible to challenge their DWI convictions as a result of the NJ Supreme Court’s decision should seek legal representation promptly, Helmer states. With the potential for thousands of cases to be filed, acting quickly may provide the best chance to secure an efficient outcome.

About Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A.

Helmer, Conley & Kasselman, P.A. is a full-service New Jersey law firm with more than 80 attorneys and staff members and 15 office locations statewide. The firm’s defense attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience representing clients in New Jersey’s superior, county and municipal courts.

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Lynn Helmer
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