George F. Hildebrandt
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The outcome of a DWI case could hang on breathalyzer error

An unexpected incident involving expired breathalyzers and the Philadelphia Police Department caused instant concern about the outcome of hundreds of drunk driving cases.

An alert attorney brought the matter to light. Could this kind of problem happen in Syracuse?

Out of date

In the summer of 2016, a private attorney informed the Philadelphia Police Department that the breathalyzers they were using to check blood alcohol content levels were outdated. Police department personnel must calibrate the machines annually. However, this involves the use of a solution that establishes accurate blood alcohol readings, and that solution had expired. The machines were immediately sent out with a request for an updated solution and were back online the same day.

Dealing with consequences

The police department brought the outdated solution issue to the attention of the District Attorney, asking that his office review cases that involved breathalyzer testing for the first half of the year. Even if breath test results were accurate, defense attorneys could use the expired solution issue to maintain that those test results were inadmissible in court. The attorney who notified the police department of the problem speculated that the calibration problem could affect the outcome of up to 1,000 DUI cases.

Checking procedures

When a Syracuse law enforcement officer stops a motorist on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol or driving while intoxicated, he or she may ask the driver to submit to a breath test. Every breathalyzer has a margin of error depending on the manufacturer, and breath tests are valid if they fall within the established range. However, as the incident in Philadelphia shows, equipment can fail. A thorough investigation may also turn up other issues, such as police procedures or testing steps that were not followed properly. Anyone who submits to a request for breathalyzer testing and questions the results should remember that things are not always as they seem, and a DUI/DWI conviction might hang on a breathalyzer error.



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