Improperly calibrated Breathalyzer machines harm the innocent and let the guilty go free
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on April 7th, 2011
Imagine you are stopped by the police for suspected drunken driving and you submit to a Breathalyzer test.
That evidence, whatever it determines, will be used against you in court, so it had better be right.
But what if it’s not right – what if the police used a Breathalyzer unit that wasn’t properly calibrated on a regular schedule as designed?
Then it throws your alleged blood alcohol reading into question, tarnishing the very “evidence” that the police believe they have to prove your guilt.
That’s what has been happening in Philadelphia recently, as the city police recently revealed that improperly calibrated machines have “compromised evidence in 1,147 instances,” according to a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We screwed up, folks,” Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey told the paper. “We screwed up, plain and simple. And now we’re paying for it.”
The problem is that the revelations mean that any DUI charge from city police from September 2009 through November 2010 is now called into question. The Breathalyzer readings from four of the city’s eight machines apparently gave false readings due to a lack of calibration before they were used. An investigation into how and why the machines weren’t properly calibrated continues.
According to the story, Commissioner Ramsey believes that even without the Breathalyzer results, most of the 1,147 affected cases will hold up through other evidence. “But he also acknowledged that some people might have been wrongly convicted of driving under the influence due to the mistake, and said his office was reaching out to people who faced charges during that period,” according to the Inquirer. “Our interest is justice, not just convictions,” he told the paper.
That, in the end, is what is most important here.
Drunk driving is a serious crime and one that we need to continue to aggressively fight using police and the courts.
In 2009, there were 10,839 victims who were killed in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes on U.S. roads, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. That’s one death every 48 minutes, according to the CDC, with an annual cost of alcohol-related crashes that totals more than $51 billion. Those 10,839 deaths accounted for nearly one-third of all traffic-related deaths in the United States that year, according to CDC statistics. None of those numbers even include injuries caused by drunk drivers on our roadways.
The dangers of drinking and driving are clear.
But if convictions are not being reached properly, then that’s not legal or fair.
We here at MyPhillyLawyer have represented several clients who were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) but who were acquitted after it was shown that the Breathalyzer machines used to collect evidence against them had not been properly calibrated.
The test results that had been collected could not be used against them in court because the results were not accurate.
In order for the police and prosecutors to be able to rely on evidence from Breathalyzer machines and other means, they must be absolutely, 100% certain of the accuracy and veracity of the test results they are receiving.
Police officers and their support staffs need to be properly trained in using and reading the test equipment properly without fail so that the evidence collected against drunk drivers is proper and legal.
Without accurate calibration, that means innocent people can be improperly charged and convicted.
And worse, without proper calibration, it means that guilty drivers can get away with their crimes and walk away without punishment.
The system and procedures must be fair to drivers and must be corrected quickly so these problems don’t happen again.
If you or a loved one is ever stopped for a DUI, you should be able to be confident that the police are using calibrated, quality testing equipment to determine your blood alcohol level accurately.
If not, then you must be sure to talk to a qualified and professional attorney who can help protect your rights. So give us a call here at MyPhillyLawyer. We stand ready to answer your questions and help you along the way.