Defense lawyers have known for decades that the machines used by law enforcement to test the blood alcohol concentration in a person’s breath – the breathalyzer machine or Intox machines used in North Carolina and Raleigh – are not very reliable.
Part of the unreliability of these machines stems from the fact that they have to be regularly calibrated and sometimes police are improperly trained on how to do that.
Now there’s news out of Washington, DC that the District of Columbia’s police department improperly calibrated all 10 of the department’s machines leading to more than 400 convictions over a several year period.
The Washington Post reports that:
Nearly 400 people were convicted of driving while intoxicated in the District since fall 2008 based on inaccurate results from breath test machines, and half of them went to jail, city officials said Wednesday.
D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said the machines were improperly adjusted by city police. The jailed defendants generally served at least five days, he said.
Nickles’s office has begun notifying the drivers, a move that immediately triggered at least one lawsuit against the District and could lead to requests for expungements, new trials and even deeper skepticism about the integrity of testing. Challenging test results is at the heart of drunken-driving cases, and this revelation will only strengthen those challenges, defense attorneys said.