Archive for January 17th, 2005

New DUI Law: Inaccurate Breath Tests are OK

Monday, January 17th, 2005

Washington State recently passed a new law, essentially making all breath tests admissible as evidence — regardless of whether the particular breathalyzer was broken, defective, given incorrectly or otherwise inaccurate. Bear in mind that citizens arrested for DUI are usually charged with two separate criminal offenses: (1) driving under the influence and (2) driving with .08% or greater blood-alcohol concentration. The only evidence of the second charge will be the breath machine. And even in the first charge, the defendant is rebuttably presumed guilty if his or her breath test was .08% or higher. In other words, the entire case pretty much hinges on that machine.

Problem: law enforcement agencies in Washington couldn’t seem to get their acts together in calibrating, maintaining and properly administering the machines. And the legislature just got sick of seeing the courts toss out cases due to questionable breath tests. So….they simply passed a law saying that a breathalyzer doesn’t really have to be accurate: it is automatically admissible as evidence. In fact, it can be demonstrably defective — even completely disfunctional. It doesn’t matter: it’s "close enough for government work". Enough to prosecute and convict.

When scientific truth clashes with the "war on drunk driving", truth inevitably loses. (For another example of law trumping science, see my earlier post, "Truth, Justice…and DUI Politics".) Calling it ‘fundamentally unfair to our system of justice’, attorney Linda Callahan is leading a legal challenge to the new law. "I do believe the legislature sees the evils inherent in drunk driving,’ Callahan says. ‘But in their effort to stop drunk driving what they have done is cast the net so wide that it draws in even the innocent." Ends justify the means…..

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