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State of New Jersey v. Nicole Holland

April 5, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NICOLE HOLLAND, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
KENNETH PIZZO, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal Nos. 09-069 and 09-078.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parrillo, P.J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued February 8, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo, Yannotti and Skillman.

The opinion of the court was delivered by PARRILLO, P.J.A.D.

We granted leave to appeal in these two matters, consolidated for the purposes of this opinion, to resolve a common issue: whether blood alcohol concentration (BAC) results derived from an Alcotest 7110 MKIII-C (Alcotest) breath-testing device are admissible against defendants in driving while intoxicated (DWI) prosecutions when the device has been calibrated with a Control Company, Inc. (Control Company) temperature probe, or thermometer, instead of the Ertco-Hart temperature probe referenced in State v. Chun, 194 N.J. 54, 89, 135, 152-53, cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 158, 172 L. Ed. 2d 41 (2008).

Defendants Nicole Holland and Kenneth Pizzo were convicted in the municipal courts of Neptune City and Sea Girt, respectively, of per se violations of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, among other motor vehicle offenses. Holland had moved to exclude the results of the Alcotest used to measure her BAC at 0.16% because the Alcotest was calibrated with a temperature probe manufactured by a company other than Ertco-Hart. In the other matter, in anticipation of a similar motion, Pizzo requested a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing on the State's foundational proofs - specifically the various reports relating to calibration of the Alcotest machine, and further requested that the State provide missing documentation on the Alcotest device, which in his case produced a BAC reading of .15%. In both instances, the municipal court judge denied the motions, concluding in Holland's case that the Chun decision mandates the use of a NIST traceable thermometer and not necessarily one manufactured by Ertco-Hart, and in Pizzo's case that the State had complied with Chun's requirements. Holland subsequently entered a conditional guilty plea to DWI and Pizzo was convicted after a bench trial of a per se violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50.

Both defendants appealed their municipal court convictions to the Law Division, where de novo reviews were conducted by different judges. In the Holland matter, the judge suppressed the Alcotest results for failure to provide a Draeger Safety, Ertco-Hart Digital Temperature Measuring System Report of Calibration, NIST traceability as a requisite foundational document, and remanded the matter to municipal court for proceedings limited to observational proof of Holland's alleged intoxication. The Law Division judge further ruled that, before the State could use a temperature probe manufactured by a company other than Ertco-Hart, it was required to seek permission from the Supreme Court and submit proof of comparability in a Frye*fn1 hearing.

The judge in the Pizzo matter reached the opposite conclusion, rejecting the defendant's argument that the Alcotest results were inadmissible solely because the State used a Control Company temperature probe, but remanded to the municipal court to conduct a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing on the State's failure to produce additional Alcotest device data previously requested by Pizzo and to determine whether the Control Company temperature probe was comparable to the Ertco-Hart probe.

We granted leave to appeal in both cases in the interest of justice. R. 2:2-4. However, before addressing the common issue raised in the State's and defendant Pizzo's appeals, we first review basic concepts regarding admissibility of Alcotest results as set forth in Chun, and the role of the NIST traceable temperature measuring system in calibrating a particular Alcotest device.

It has long been recognized that breath-testing devices, known as breathalyzers, are scientifically reliable and accurate instruments used for determining BAC. Chun, supra, 194 N.J. at 64. In fact, drivers whose breathalyzer test results exceed the statutory maximum BAC limit are guilty per se of DWI. Ibid. In order to admit the breathalyzer test results into evidence, the Court has required foundational proofs relating to the operation of the breathalyzer machine. Ibid. Over the years, the breathalyzer has become technologically outdated, resulting in the introduction of the Alcotest. Ibid. The Alcotest generates an Alcohol Influence Report (AIR), which provides an individual's BAC. Id. at 79, 82-83. The Alcotest is manufactured and marketed by Draeger Safety Diagnostics, Inc. (Draeger). Id. at 66.

Chun held that the novel Alcotest, utilizing New Jersey Firmware version 3.11, is "generally scientifically reliable," subject to certain conditions established by the Court. Id. at 65. Thus, "as a precondition for admissibility of the results of a breathalyzer, the State [is] required to establish that:

(1) the device was in working order and had been inspected according to procedure; (2) the operator was certified; and (3) the test was administered according to official procedure." Id. at 134. The State must "clearly ...


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