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DC: Bogus Breathalyzer Results May Go Back a Decade
Whistleblower contends Washington, DC breath testing machines have not been accuracy checked since 2000.

Robert J. Hildum
Motorists in Washington, DC may have been falsely accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) for more than a decade as a result of faulty "Intoxilyzer" breath testing equipment. Whistleblower Ilmar Paegle, a veteran police officer now working as a contract employee for the District Department of Transportation, argued in a memorandum to the city's attorney general that the breath testing machines have not been properly calibrated since 2000, as first reported by WTTG-TV.

To date, the District has only admitted to bogus breathalyzer results taken between September 2008 and February 4, 2010. Of 1100 cases prosecuted in that period, 300 were convicted based on evidence provided by faulty machines.

"As a result of the miscalibration the instruments apparently produced results that were outside the acceptable margin of error to be considered accurate," Deputy DC Attorney General Robert J. Hildum wrote in a June 4 letter to DC trial lawyers. "OAG [office of the attorney general] is in the process of notifying the defendants and their counsel in those cases."

Paegle's discovery that the breathalyzers producing bogus results forced the Metropolitan Police Department to stop using the machines on February 4 and switch to Intoximeters. Hildum blamed the problems on Officer Kelvin King who began replacing motors in the breathalyzers in September 2008 as part of routine maintenance. Under DC law, the machines must be tested for accuracy every three months, but the District failed to codify procedures or standards for this testing. Paegle was concerned that the District has never performed these accuracy tests, raising concern among legal experts.

"You too could have been pulled over on the basis of a minor traffic violation and put through a series of difficult and humiliating field sobriety tests," DC-based defense attorney Jamison Koehler wrote on his law firm's blog. "After blowing into the breath test machine, you could have spent the night in a jail cell with other people who were drunk, angry, disorderly, mentally ill or whose sweating, panting and retching signaled to you that they going through drug withdrawal. You could have had to shell out thousands of dollars to hire a lawyer and missed work on so many occasions to attend court hearings that your employer warned you might be fired.... On the basis of the faulty breath test results, you too have been convicted of driving while intoxicated even with blood alcohol levels far below the legal limit."

A copy of the OAG memo is available in a 220k PDF at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Letter to DC Superior Court Trial Lawyers Assoc. (DC Office of the Attorney General, 6/4/2010)

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