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D.C. Breathalyzers Are Back

by | Oct 5, 2012

After a 20-month long overhaul, the D.C. breathalyzer program is back, and will once again be utilized in D.C. DUI cases.

Our D.C. DUI lawyers are poised to press forward with additional challenges of the program and its results, after the city halted the program amid evidence of widespread inaccuracy and improper calibration of the machines.

It comes at an especially perilous time for those arrested for DUI, as council earlier this year passed a measure that mandates even tougher penalties for those convicted of driving under the influence.

The Washington Post reported that while city officials were unable to say exactly how many breathalyzers were back in use, we know there were 10 devices under the previous program. Plus, police officials say there are a sufficient number available for use in the city’s seven patrol districts, as well as for police training.

You probably recall the uproar that resulted after a February 2010 review by an outside consultant turned up startling evidence that the city’s Intoxylizer machines were calibrating blood alcohol level results that were in some cases 20 percent higher than what they should have been. In cases where fractions of a percentage can matter, this was a big deal.

In the end, at least 400 people were found to have been convicted of DUI on the basis of inaccurate breathalyzer results. This prompted a slew of lawsuits, and the city was forced to stop using the machines starting in 2011.

In all, nearly 25 people sued both the D.C. Superior and the U.S. District courts. Most clients settled those claims out of court, with payouts ranging anywhere from $2,000 to $42,000. Still, it can’t be understated how much this ordeal affected these individuals, given that their lives were on hold, they paid significant fines, had their driver’s licenses revoked, endured a social stigma and some even lost their jobs.

While the program was on hiatus, police primarily used urine testing and/or field sobriety tests to determine a person’s intoxication. In some cases, they even transported the individual to a nearby jurisdiction so they could be given a breathalyzer there.

Police officials now say there are a number of safeguards in place to ensure the machines are not only properly used, but properly maintained. An officer who is trained to use the device will administer the test, but the overall program will be under the purview of the Chief Medical Examiner. That office will also oversee the continued maintenance and certification.

Still, it’s worth noting that no matter how many precautions are in place, breathalyzers are still machines and they require human involvement to operate. This means defense attorneys will be looking very closely at both the technical aspects of the machine’s operation, as well as the potential for human error.

As previously reported in our D.C. DUI Lawyer blog, the new penalties for DUI convictions took effect at the beginning of August. Among those new changes are doubled jail penalties (up to 180 days from 90 days) and fines (up $1,000 from $300). Those with a blood alcohol level of 0.20 or higher will face a minimum jail sentence of 10 days, where previously it had been five days.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.