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Breathalyzers Still Absent in Washington D.C. DUI Cases

by | Mar 2, 2012

It has been more than two years since officials within the District admitted that the breathalyzers used to make arrests in countless Washington D.C. DUI cases were faulty.

Washington D.C. DUI defense attorneys understand that about a year after the devices were tabled by law enforcement, there are still no immediate plans to return them to regular practice, either by repairing the old ones or replacing them.

That means police and other law enforcement officials must rely on other, more subjective, methods of roadside alcohol testing. These include non-standardized sobriety tests — such as the request to count backward or recite a portion of the alphabet — that are designed to make you fail. There is a significant margin of error for each, which is why it is important if you have been arrested on DUI charges in Washington D.C., your first call should be to an experienced DUI attorney.

Problems with the Breathalyzers D.C. officers had been using were reported as early as 2010. The machines are used to measure the blood alcohol level of people who are being investigated by law enforcement for suspected driving while intoxicated. At the time, the issue was reported on by Paul Wagner of MyFoxDC. He learned that an outsider hired to oversee the Breathalyzer unit of the local police department uncovered more than 10 years of faulty results.

In a memorandum sent to the District’s attorney general, it was reported that officers in the program almost never tested the machines for accuracy. In fact, the machines hadn’t been properly tested since 2000.

The issue surfaced in one DUI case in which a man was convicted primarily on the Breathalyzer reading at the time of his arrest – a reading that, as it was later acknowledged, could not be verified as accurate. The man’s DUI defense attorney was quoted as saying that the implications were huge, going back a number of years and undermining the integrity of the court system.

Ultimately, the machines were pulled out of law enforcement circulation last February. Officers were ordered to rely instead on urine samples and field sobriety tests. Now, there is pressure from the D.C. City council to put a new alcohol testing program in place, but police say it could be months before something actually comes to fruition. Councilmembers expressed frustration to local media, saying that the machines were the most cost effective and accurate ways of testing suspected alcohol consumption by motorists.

“Every city does it,” said Councilman Phil Mendelson. “We ought to be doing it. It ought to be up and running.”

The delay is reported to have something to do with the attorney general’s office working in conjunction with the medical examiner’s office to drum up new protocols. Mendelson said he had been told there are technical issues to be hammered out with the manufacturer of the machines, as well as a detailed analysis of the District’s laws to ensure they are compatible with the technology.

Arrests for DUI and DWI have dropped sharply since 2009, with the attorney general’s office declining to take a number of DWI cases to court.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Law Office of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-596-5716.