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Breathalyzers May Soon Return to D.C.

by | Jul 19, 2012

Breathalyzers may soon be deployed again by D.C. police, who halted their use of the machines last year following evidence revealing some of the test were inflating alcohol levels.

What’s more, punishments for a D.C. DUI could increase, under emergency legislation that is being considered by the D.C. council. It would make the new blood alcohol limit 0.04 for commercial drivers (it’s currently 0.08 for all motorists), and increase penalties for all drivers convicted of a first-time DUI.

D.C. DUI attorneys want to make sure drivers are informed not only about this impending action, but also about how your DUI case may be influenced by the test results of a breathalyzer.

First and foremost, it’s critical to note that regardless of whatever evidence is against you, having a skilled DUI lawyer to handle your case is your best weapon against conviction. Having someone with experience to aggressively work your case from all angles greatly increases your odds of a favorable outcome.

To understand why the council is considering this emergency action, you must first explore the background of the situation.

In early 2010, an outside consultant found that the D.C. breathalyzers were incorrectly calibrating the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood stream, in some cases by as much as 20 percent. As a result, almost 400 people were convicted based on these inaccurate tests. That led the city to stop using the breathalyzers in 2011.

It was also later learned that several D.C. officers were embroiled in internal investigations, after they attempted to blow the whistle on the breath test inaccuracies.

Several dozen motorists challenged their convictions. In May, D.C. attorneys settled on a pay-out to four of those drivers for $20,000, not including attorneys’ fees, which were also covered.

After that, the District bought new breathalyzer equipment, but they’ve been waiting to initiate testing until this new legislation has passed, which appears likely. In the meantime, D.C. Metro police have been relying on urine samples and field sobriety tests to make DUI arrests. Of course, the problem with the latter is that field sobriety tests are far more subjective – i.e., less accurate – than chemical tests.

Last year, council created the Department of Forensic Sciences for the express purpose of overseeing the new breathalyzer program, which previously was supervised by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Some officers have anonymously expressed concern about conducting breathalyzer tests, even once they are reinstated, due to the controversy and the actions taken against those officers who spoke out before.

What this new legislation would do is not only reinstate the breathalyzer tests, but also increase maximum penalties for a first-time DUI offender from a 90-day jail sentence and a $300 fine to a 180 day jail sentence and a $1,000 fine. If someone is arrested with a 0.20 blood alcohol level, they would face a minimum of 10 days in jail (which is double the current  minimum mandatory). If someone was convicted of a DUI with a minor in the car, they would be given an additional five-day minimum jail sentence.

It would also hold commercial drivers to a new higher standard.

If the emergency legislation is passed, breathalyzers could be in use again by as early as next month. These types of tests do create additional evidence against you in your case. You have the right to refuse it, though you need to understand you will face a minimum license suspension if you do.

Questions about your D.C. DUI arrest should be immediately addressed by Scrofano Law, PC. Call 202-765-3175.