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D.C. DUI Settlement Over Faulty Breathalyzers

by | May 18, 2012

A D.C. DUI defense victory for four men could have widespread implications for others battling DUI charges.

Washington D.C. DUI defense lawyers have been closely following the case of the four men, who say they were arrested and convicted, based on evidence collected from faulty breathalyzer machines.

Now, the District has agreed to settle their federal civil cases for a collective $20,000 – or $5,000 for two of the suspects, $8,000 for a third and $2,000 for the fourth.

Of course, the District refused to acknowledge any fault in the case, but that doesn’t mean that this settlement couldn’t be used as ammo in future D.C. DUI cases.

The civil suit was filed 19 months ago, and alleged that the Metropolitan Police Department knew they were using breathalyzer machines that weren’t returning accurate results. Additionally, prosecutors in those DUI cases were accused of pushing evidence that they, too, knew to be unreliable and inaccurate in order to boost their conviction rates.

An attorney for the District said the only reason the case was settled was to save taxpayers the expense and time of ongoing litigation.

However, no government agency is going to fork over tens of thousands of dollars in these difficult economic times if they felt they had a shot at winning the case.

And in fact, this won’t be the last we’ll be hearing of this litigation. This was a class action case in which more than a dozen people have signed on. The original plaintiff in the case hasn’t settled with the District, and neither have the other parties.

The suit alleges that back in 2008, an independent researcher informed District officials that the breath machines weren’t accurate. And yet, police and prosecutors continued to use them. In fact, city officials even admit that about 300 people total were convicted with evidence derived from the faulty machines. A letter that government lawyers forwarded to defense attorneys in this case indicated that the miscalibration of the machines produced evidence of blood alcohol levels that were “outside the margin of error.” That just means that the tests were in no way reliable.

This led to the District suspending its use of the machines indefinitely, leaving current DUI cases to rely on more subjective evidence, such as officers’ observations and field sobriety tests. While judges and juries may give a lot of weight to the testimony of police officers, this case could have a major effect on that.

It calls into question the conduct of police and prosecutors in future D.C. DUI cases. If they had no issue pressing forward with faulty results in the past, what would stop them from doing it again?

That’s what is so troubling about this case, and it’s an issue that D.C. DUI defense attorneys are going to have to explore in future cases – particularly if those same officers and prosecutors are involved.

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.