I’ve posted repeatedly in the past about the inaccuracies and unreliability of breath-alcohol testing machines. See, for example, How Breathalyzers Work (and Why They Don’t), Why Breathalyzers Don’t Measure Alcohol and Report: Breathalyzers Outdated, Unstable, Unreliable.
And news stories of massive breathalyzer failures keep rising to the surface. For a few recent examples, see Attorney General Finds Widespread Breathalyzer Inaccuracies; Police Shut Down All Machines (two months ago), Inaccurate Breathalyzers Cast Doubt on 1,147 DUI Cases in Philadelphia (less than one month ago), and 400 Wrongly Convicted in Washington: Faulty Breathalyzers (last year).
And two days ago:
Defective Breathalyzers Could Lead to Tossing Out Hundreds of DUI Convictions
Ventura, CA. April 19 – Hundreds of drunken driving convictions in Ventura County could be tossed out because a defect in some of the handheld Breathalyzer machines purchased earlier this year is causing inaccurate blood-alcohol readings.
The Ventura County District Attorney’s Office has sent memos to local attorneys saying that eight Intoximeter Alco-Sensor V breathalyzers have shown "erratic results" in blood-alcohol tests taken between Jan. 20 and March 31, according to Kevin Drescher, the supervising attorney with the felony unit.
The county purchased 128 of the devices, paying about $4,800 for each one.
Drescher said he didn’t know how many people charged with DUI were tested with the Alco-Sensor V during that time…
The District Attorney’s Office sent the memo to the Public Defender’s Office on April 15, said Chief Deputy Public Defender Monica Cummins. She said about 160 clients who were either convicted of drunken driving during this time, or have DUI cases pending, will be contacted by the office…
Cummins said the Public Defender’s Office will move to have the convictions dismissed in cases where there may have been blood-alcohol errors. But some people who were found guilty or pleaded guilty as a result of these false readings have already served jail time, paid thousands of dollars in fines and have done community service as part of the conviction, Cummins noted.
Also, harsher penalties are meted out to motorists who blow a .15 percent blood-alcohol level, said Cummins. In California, a blood-alcohol reading of .08 is considered the benchmark for being legally intoxicated.
"Truthfully, there is a whole cornucopia of problems that will likely arise," she said.The Alco Sensor V is manufactured by Intoximeters, Inc. of St. Louis, Mo.
According to the company’s website, "The ASV provides a simple, economical method of determining a subject’s breath alcohol concentration with evidential grade accuracy."
Company officials didn’t return calls.
Remember: these are just cases where the problems have been detected — and discovered by the media. Do you really think that the thousands of other breathalyzers across the country are reliable?
It is a crime to drive a vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of .08% or higher — as measured by one of these fallible machines. And how do you cross-examine a machine? Yet in today’s "trial by machine", the reading alone is sufficient to find an accused guilty — beyond a reasonable doubt.
Law once again trumps science…
(Thanks to Lane Scherer, an attorney in my law firm.)