Call Us: 202-630-0939

D.C. DUI Prosecutions Dropping with Lack of Breathalyzers

by | Mar 25, 2012

As recently reported in our DC DUI Lawyer Blog, breathalyzer machines are still not being employed by local law enforcement or prosecutors in Washington D.C DUI cases, following widespread concern regarding their accuracy.

Now, as Washington D.C. DUI attorneys understand it, the district’s attorney general is raising concerns that this is making it difficult for prosecutors to secure convictions in DUI cases.

Attorney General Irvan Nathan expressed concern to District Council members at a recent meeting, saying DUI offenders weren’t being properly punished because prosecutors were essentially “handicapped.” Without the use of breathalyzer machines, he said, law enforcement officers have really no way of knowing how much alcohol a person may have consumed at the time of arrest.

Instead, he accurately pointed out, officers are left with more subjective measures to determine the level of intoxication. These would include field sobriety tests, urine tests and recorded officer observations about an individual’s actions or behavior. The problem, though, is that in a court of law, jurors and judges often want to see scientific proof. Police officers, while respected, aren’t always right. They are human, they make mistakes and jurors know that.

From the attorney general’s standpoint, the state is especially concerned about their inability to prosecute people under a District law that allows judges to impose long jail sentences to people who blow a .20 or higher on a breathalyzer test. Because officers can’t currently use the breathalyzers, Nathan said his office has had to refrain from prosecutions for DWI.

From a D.C. defense attorney’s perspective, however, bringing back faulty testing will ensure justice for no one. The machines that had previously been used by the D.C. Police Department had proven to show ineffective results over the last decade. Law enforcement officials hadn’t actually tested the accuracy of these devices since 2000, calling into question the accuracy of thousands of D.C. DUI convictions. This caused government administrators to pull the devices from circulation.

While urine tests can indicate whether a person has consumed alcohol within a certain time frame, what it can’t do is accurately pinpoint how much alcohol the person has drunk.

District officials say it could be months before the breathalyzer program is again up and running.

Police department statistics indicate nearly 520 people have been charged with DWI in 2010. Last year, it was 109. Total arrests for DWI and DUI last year were about 1,330, with about 300 individuals refusing to take any test at all. Prosecutors say this is evidence that people are trying to take a chance on a system that is clearly flawed.

But justice isn’t one of those things that should be left to chance. Officials shouldn’t rush to put defective devices back into circulation, because the end result of that will inevitably be swift and successful challenges to their effectiveness.


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, Master Card and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.

Additional Resources: DC Attorney General Says DC Having Trouble Prosecuting DWI Drivers, By Paul Wagner, MyFoxDC