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DC Breathalyzers and Guilty Pleas

by | Mar 7, 2011

Guilty Until Suggesting Otherwise: Washington, DC Prosecutors Used Invalid Breathalyzer Results to Get Defendants to Plead Guilty to DWI Charges.

It seems like you can’t look at the cover of a Washington, DC newspaper these days without reading about the many problems surrounding the city’s breath-testing program for DWI arrests. In case you haven’t been following the story, the DC MPD, US Capital Police, and US Park Police had been using an Intoxilizer 5000 breath-testing machines during DUI arrests. The police used a lab in Maryland to do all calibration and maintenance on the breathalyzers.

It appears that the lab was calibrating the equipment incorrectly which was producing readings that could be 20% higher than the defendant’s actual blood alcohol content (BAC). The only requirement for a breathalyzer in DC is that the Chief Toxicologist sign-off on the calibration. This did not happen. The police eventually replaced the machines with newer Intoximeter breath-testing equipment, but officials again refused to sign-off on the accuracy. The police continued to use these uncertified breathalyzers, and the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG) continued to use the results in court.

The police have attempted to switch to a urinalysis program but that has been wrought with its own set of problems. During the alleged attempts by DC Police and prosecutors to cover-up this mess, they continued to use the results of tests to get people to plead guilty despite knowledge that the results were potentially tainted. According to a recent story in The Examiner, the OAG conducted an audit which determined that for those convicted based upon tainted breath-testing scores, there was no evidence suggesting that “those defendants were otherwise innocent.”  Are the prosecutors trying to say that you are no longer innocent until proven guilty, but instead are guilty of DC DWI charges until there is a suggestion otherwise?