Category Archives: Breathalyzers
Law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California will increase their efforts to thwart would-be drunk drivers this month and on into the Labor Day weekend. One tool I know they plan on using during this time is the DUI checkpoint.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Labor Day weekend is one of the deadliest holidays of the year when it comes alcohol-related collisions. In 2017, there was 376 deadly crashes nationwide for the Labor Day holiday period which ran from September 1st to September 5th. Of those 376 deadly collisions, more than one-third (36%) involved drunk drivers.
Last year, California saw two deaths and 31 injuries on Labor Day.
Since there is an increased chance of getting stopped at checkpoint in the next couple of weeks, it makes sense to remind our readers what their rights are when it comes to a California DUI checkpoint.
The 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that officers have probable cause and a warrant before they can seize and/or search a person. Well, what is a checkpoint? It is certainly a seizure since the police are stopping people on the roads when they would otherwise be free to drive without interruption. It may be also a search if the law enforcement has drivers take a breathalyzer since by doing so they are looking for evidence of drunk driving.
So, checkpoints can involve both searches and seizures, yet police don’t have warrants to stop and breathalyze drivers. How?
In the 1987 case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, the California Supreme Court set forth guidelines to ensure the constitutionality of checkpoints in California such that law enforcement doesn’t need a warrant. Those guidelines are:
- The decision to conduct checkpoint must be at the supervisory level.
- There must be limits on the discretion of field officers.
- Checkpoints must be maintained safely for both the officers and the motorists.
- Checkpoints must be set up at reasonable locations such that the effectiveness of the checkpoint is optimized.
- The time at which a checkpoint is set up should also optimize the effectiveness of the checkpoint.
- The checkpoint must show indicia of official nature of the roadblock.
- Motorists must only be stopped for a reasonable amount of time which is only long enough to briefly question the motorist and look for signs of intoxication.
- Lastly, the Court in the Ingersoll decision was strongly in favor of the belief that there should be advance publicity of the checkpoint. To meet this requirement law enforcement usually make the checkpoints highly visible with signs and lights.
Three years later in the case of Michigan Department of State Police v. Sitz, the United States Supreme Court held that the state’s interest in preventing drunk driving was a “substantial government interest.” It further held that this government interest outweighed motorists’ interests against unreasonable searches and seizures when considering the brevity and nature of the stop. In doing so, the court held that sobriety checkpoints were constitutional even though officers were technically violating the 4th Amendment (because they don’t have a warrant when they seize and search motorists at DUI checkpoints).
Now that we’ve determined that sobriety checkpoints are constitutional, I would be remiss if I did not tell you what your rights and obligations are, as the driver, should you happen to find yourself stopped at a sobriety checkpoint.
Based on the last of the Ingersoll v. Palmer requirements, checkpoints must be highly visible. As a result, drivers are often aware of the checkpoint before they drive up to it. Believe it or not, drivers are allowed to turn around so as to avoid the checkpoint. They, however, must do so without breaking any traffic laws such as making an illegal U-turn.
If you do not turn away, but rather pull up to the checkpoint, the officer might first ask you some questions such as: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? Have you had anything to drink?
The 5th Amendment to the Constitution gives you the right not to say anything to law enforcement ever. And don’t! Invoke your right to remain silent by telling the officer, “I would like invoke my 5th Amendment right and respectfully decline to answer any of your questions.” Now keep your mouth shut until given the opportunity to call your attorney.
Surely this is not going to sit well with the officer. They may, at that point, have the driver exit the car and request that they perform field sobriety tests. Drivers should absolutely decline to perform the field sobriety tests. They are an inaccurate indicator of intoxication, but fortunately they are optional. I and many other people would have trouble doing them sober.
At this point, the officer is likely fuming, but who cares? You are exercising your constitutional rights.
As a last-ditch effort, they may request that you take a roadside breathalyzer commonly referred to as a “PAS” (preliminary alcohol screening) test. Under California’s implied consent rule, as a driver, you must submit to a chemical test after you have been arrested on suspicion of a DUI. The key word is “after.” Therefore, when you happen upon a checkpoint and the officer requests that you to take the PAS test, you can legally refuse. If, however, the officer has arrested you on suspicion of DUI you must submit to either a blood test or a breath test.
This Labor Day be on the lookout for sobriety checkpoints. But should you find yourself about to drive through one with no way to legally turn around, know your rights and use them. That’s what they’re there for.
The Maui Police Department hope to be able to start enforcing their DUI laws in a more time efficient manner with the purchase and arrival of six new high-tech breathalyzers.
The current Intoxilyzer 8000 models have been used by the department since May 2015 and the introduction of the newer Intoxilyzer 9000s will hopefully allow the officers to spend less time documenting their tests results.
The new device is equipped with a touchscreen rather than a keyboard for easier data entry and its updated software will allow for some of the departmental forms to be incorporated into the device. This will allow the device to create reports rather than the officers manually typing out the reports as they did previously.
A grant totaling $63,000 through the state Department of Transportation allowed for the purchase of the new devices, and the Maui Police Department will be the first department in the state to transition to the Intoxilyzer 9000. The Honolulu Police Department also hopes to soon make the same transition.
DUI Task Force Sergeant Nick Krau has been tasked with the training as well as the writing of policy and operating procedures for the Intoxilyzer 9000 that will eventually be reviewed by the state Department of Health before being distributed. Official training and use of the new devices will take place soon thereafter.
A total of twelve officers, coming from multiple islands, spent time at a two-day training course at the Kihei Police Station in order to familiarize themselves with the new devices. The attending officers will be the ones primarily training other officers.
According to Lieutenant William Hankins, the commander of the police Traffic Section, “The technology is still the same as far as how it analyzes breath readings. It just makes it easier for the officers. Everything’s going to be faster.”
Six devices may not seem like a lot for an entire police department. however, these are not the same devices that patrol officers will have out on the street. The new Intoxilyzer 9000 devices will be analyzing results after the preliminary tests are administered and are to become the tests that are admissible in court.
Each police station in Maui County will have a new Intoxilyzer.
“We always strive to have the most updated technology possible for our officers and our community. It will allow us to get our officers back on the road faster,” said Krau.
I hope that the state departments and various police department heads do their very best to make sure that statement rings true.
A quick Google search revealed that the Intoxilyzer 9000 series has been in circulation as early as 2013. Some of the first states to implement the new model were Georgia and Colorado. Texas made a slower transition as there where a few deficiencies with the device that became apparent after other states had already begun using it but aimed for full implementation in 2015.
Although not quite as new and novel as Krau made it out to be, Hawaii’s implementation of the Intoxilyzer 9000 might signify an emerging trend of modernizing breathalyzers. Perhaps they were merely waiting for all of the deficiencies of the earlier 9000 series to work themselves out.
The topic is nothing new to this blog; breathalyzer results used to try to convict people of a DUI are thrown out because of their lack of reliability.
The latest incident comes from Massachusetts where a judge ruled that breathalyzers in over 400 DUI cases must be thrown out until the machine that police in that state use to determine a driver’s blood alcohol content can be proven as accurate.
In the consolidated case, Judge Robert Brennan found that the Office of Alcohol Testing had failed to release evidence to DUI defense attorneys that breathalyzers used in their client’s cases were inaccurate. As a result, the head of the office was fired, the results of the breathalyzers were thrown out, and prosecutors are scrambling to find additional evidence to prove the intoxication of those drivers.
According to Massachusetts law, if someone refuses a breathalyzer, their refusal cannot be revealed in a DUI trial against that person as a means to avoid prejudicing a judge or jury. When that happens, prosecutors are forced to rely on law enforcement officers’ testimony that a person was intoxicated based on their observations.
“I expect to see more of an emphasis on observations of the subject, both at the scene and at the station while being booked and in custody,” said Bellingham Police Chief Gerard Daigle. “Recognition of the signs and symptoms of impairment will be crucial. It’s similar to what is needed if the tests were refused.”
Additionally, Judge Brennan said that the Office of Alcohol Testing must undergo significant reform including providing additional training for staff and instituting internal regulations for complying with discovery requests in criminal cases, including DUI cases, similar to those that are followed by the state police’s crime management unit.
“Right now, there’s serious cause to doubt the scientific results,” said Massachusetts attorney, Daniel Cappetta. “Judge Brennan has rightly decided that these tests shouldn’t be used to take anyone’s liberty.”
The Office of Alcohol Testing is planning on applying for nation accreditation by August of this year and district attorney offices will be monitoring the office’s progress.
“We are reviewing yesterday’s ruling,” said District Attorney, Marian Ryan. “Moving forward, we will continue to be in contact with OAT regarding the date for their compliance with the judge’s order.”
This is not the first time Massachusetts has dealt with issues of faulty breathalyzers. In fact, this is not the first time Judge Brennan has overseen DUI cases dealing with the reliability of the state’s use of breathalyzers.
In September of last year, I wrote Tens of Thousands of DUI Cases Affected by Tainted Breathalyzers in Massachusetts where the same Judge Brennan, who was presiding over proceedings challenging the reliability of breathalyzers since 2015, was provided with an agreement that prosecutors were not use breathalyzer results dating back to 2011. The reason was due to the lack of proper calibration of the breathalyzers since the state purchased them in 2011.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, drivers should never submit to a pre-arrest breathalyzer and they should only submit to required chemical test breathalyzer (rather than a blood test) if they’re unsure whether their blood alcohol content was above or below the legal limit. The reason for this is precisely because they are inaccurate. Whether through inherent mechanical flaws or less-than-trustworthy toxicology labs, if a driver’s blood alcohol content is slightly above the legal limit, it is easier for defense attorneys to argue that there’s a chance that the driver’s blood alcohol content is actually below the legal limit.
I know I complain a lot about the DUI laws here in California. There is much improvement to be made with regard to how law enforcement enforces drunk driving laws and how prosecutors prosecute drunk driving laws. Having said all that, at least we’re not in Canada.
Section 253 of the Criminal Code of Canada was effectively changed in December of 2018 which gave law enforcement the authority to seek breath samples from people who might have been driving under the influence of alcohol.
Here in California, an officer must have probable cause that a person was under the influence before they could arrest them on suspicion of a DUI. Only then was a person required to provide either a breath or a blood sample. Prior to that arrest, any breath sample provided was voluntary on behalf of the driver.
Under Canada’s new law, police officers no longer need to have “reasonable suspicion” that a person had consumed alcohol to force that person to take a breathalyzer. Police could demand breath samples from people at their home, in a bar, or at a restaurant. If the person refuses, they could be arrested and charged, and if convicted, can face a fine and a driving suspension.
Notwithstanding the potential to arrest a person who was not driving under the influence of alcohol, but rather lawfully drinking in their home or elsewhere, supporters of the law point to the use of another “tool” in combating drunk driving.
“Police miss a lot of impaired drivers,” said Toronto police spokesman Sgt. Brett Moore. “It’s just a really good, strong message that there’s a real high likelihood that if you get stopped by police, you’re going to get asked to submit to a breath test.”
Not surprisingly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada also supports the new law asserting that mandatory alcohol screening will make the roads safer.
Don’t get me wrong, I too support making roads safer, but not at the risk of arresting, charging, and punishing people for doing something perfectly lawful. I’m not the only one.
“It’s ridiculous, it’s basically criminalizing you having a drink at your kitchen table,” Paul Doroshenko, a Vancouver criminal defense lawyer who specializes in impaired driving cases, told Global News. “If you start to drink after you get home, the police show up at your door, they can arrest you, detain you, take you back to the (police station) and you can be convicted because your blood alcohol concentration was over 80 milligrams (per 100 millilitres of blood) in the two hours after you drove.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also expressed concern about Canada’s new law saying that mandatory alcohol testing will disproportionally affect racial minorities who might be unfairly targeted by law enforcement.
Notwithstanding its problems, Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raylould believes that the law with withstand judicial scrutiny when it is challenged in court and is in support of the new law.
“Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada,” said Wilson-Raybould in December. “I believe these reforms will result in fewer road deaths and fewer Canadian families devastated by the effects of an impaired driver. This is one of the most significant changes to the laws related to impaired driving in more than 40 years and is another way that we are modernizing the criminal justice system.”
It could take years for legal challenges to make their way through Canada’s appeal courts and even the Supreme Court of Canada. Until then, people, all people in Canada, are subject to a law that could find them in legal trouble even though they’ve done nothing wrong.
It was only a couple of months ago that tens of thousands of breathalyzer results were called into question in Massachusetts, affecting countless DUI cases. It appears New Jersey is dealing with a similar issue now that the state’s highest court ruled that 20,667 breathalyzer results were faulty and therefore inadmissible in the DUI cases where the results were used to secure convictions.
The ruling stems from a case that begun more than two years ago after the attorney for a woman by the name of Eileen Cassidy was notified by the state that the breath results were possibly faulty. At the time the attorney was notified, Cassidy was two weeks into a 180-day sentence on a third-time DUI. Cassidy then filed a lawsuit which led to the appointment of a special master to determine the reliability of the breathalyzer results.
Cassidy’s lawsuit led to the charging of Sergeant Marc W. Dennis with falsely certifying that he had followed proper calibration procedures when calibrating breathalyzers used in DUI stops. The court, in its recent ruling, concluded that the results of the breathalyzers calibrated by Dennis, called Alcotests, were untrustworthy.
“Confidence in the reliability of instruments of technology used as evidence is of paramount importance,” Justice Walter Timpone wrote for the court. “Unfortunately, alleged human failings have cast doubt on the calibration process.”
In addition to determining that the results of the breathalyzers were faulty, the court also vacated Cassidy’s conviction. Unfortunately, Cassidy passed away from cancer in March, never allowing her to see her case vacated by the court.
That, however, didn’t stop her attorney, Michael R. Hobbie, from continuing to fight for her.
While the court vacated Cassidy’s conviction, the New Jersey Supreme Court failed to enunciate in its ruling who could challenge their conviction or exactly how to challenge their conviction.
“With respect to the other 20,667, their cases weren’t vacated,” said Hobbie. “They just going to get notified that the breath test in their case has been deemed inadmissible and they should seek whatever remedy is available to them.”
County prosecutors have already notified thousands of people whose cases may have been affected by the faulty breathalyzer results. The New Jersey Supreme Court, however, has now ordered state authorities to notify everyone whose faulty breath test was used in their case that the results are inadmissible.
“We’ll be issuing guidance shortly for our county prosecutors and municipal prosecutors over how to handle those cases,” said Gurbir Grewal, the New Jersey attorney general.
Although the court declaring the results of the breathalyzers inadmissible is a step in the right direction, ask yourself: How much is it going to cost those people affected by the faulty breathalyzer to legally challenge their conviction (after many, I’m sure, have already spent thousands of dollars to fight the underlying DUI charge in the first place)? As I’ve pointed out many times in previous posts and as I’m sure you’re aware, lawyers are not cheap. Should these people have to bear the burden, financial or otherwise, to remedy something that would not have occurred but for the actions of a corrupt law enforcement officer trying to secure convictions of people who may have been innocent?
Sergeant Dennis was indicted in 2016 and is currently facing criminal charges.