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DWI: Not All Evidence Can Be Used Against You

On behalf of Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf LLP | Sep 6, 2016 |


On the afternoon of January 25, 2010, Julie Kuropchak and her friends went to Houlihan’s. The friends shared appetizers. Ms. Kuropchak had a sip of her friend’s margarita. Later that evening, Ms. Kuropchak felt ill. She took some Nyquil and made an appointment with her doctor. At 8:30 p.m., over six hours after her sip of alcohol at Houlihan’s, Ms. Kuropchak met with her doctor. On her way home, Ms. Kuropchak was involved in a motor vehicle accident. She was arrested for DWI and was given not one, not two, not three, but rather nine breathalyzer tests. These tests were performed approximately eight hours after Ms. Kuropchak had her sip of a margarita. Most of the breathalyzer tests did not produce valid results, but tests eight and nine showed a blood alcohol limit of .10%. A defendant may be convicted of DWI if she registers a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher, subject to proof of the breathalyzer’s reliability.

In New Jersey, for breathalyzer results to be used against a defendant, the tests results must be reliable. The State demonstrates reliability by providing documents that show the breathalyzer was in working order when used. On August 10, 2010, Ms. Kuropchak was found guilty of DWI, even though there were questions about the reliability of the nine breathalyzer tests. The Court found her guilty on two different grounds: (1) the last breathalyzer test results showing a blood alcohol limit of .10%, and (2) the officers’ observations of the defendant at the time of the incident.

On April 28, 2015, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed Ms. Kuropchak’s DWI conviction. The reason for reversal: not all evidence can be used against you. Because the required foundational documents were not submitted during trial, there was no proof that the breathalyzer tests were reliable. As far as the police officers’ observations of the defendant at the time of the incident, the Supreme Court held that the trial court should not have considered the arresting officer’s reports. These reports contained hearsay. These reports may have influenced the trial court’s decision about the police officers’ observations. Therefore, the conviction was reversed. Ms. Kuropchak may have another trial – but this time – only some evidence will be used against her.