Philadelphia, Pennsylvania police file between 8,000 and 10,000 drunk driving (DUI) cases each year. A large number of those charges rely on breathalyzers, electronic devices that gauge whether a person's blood-alcohol content is above the 0.08 legal limit. The test results, combined with the arresting officer's observations of signs of alcohol impairment, are used in criminal prosecutions. Because of its sensitivity, a breathalyzer must be regularly calibrated to ensure accuracy.
In March 2011, the Philadelphia Police Department sheepishly announced that four of its breathalyzers were mis-calibrated between September 2009 and November 2010. After a review of the 2,216 cases involving those Breathalyzers, police and prosecutors determined that 1,460 DUI cases were entitled to a new trial. More costly to Philadelphia than the new trials are the coming civil lawsuits from those improperly jailed for now highly suspect DUI charges and convictions.
Beat the Breathalyzer in Court
The Philadelphia situation illustrates the very serious and very real threat of wrongful prosecution and incarceration for DUI offenses due to pure negligence by the government. Philadelphia has no monopoly on police error and a skilled criminal defense attorney can attack the credibility of a breathalyzer test result to expose faulty evidence used in a prosecution.
Breathalyzer evidence is highly technical and scientific. Police must follow strict protocols and keep meticulous records of prior tests and certifications to prove the accuracy of a breathalyzer's results. Missteps make results inadmissible. Some things to be considered when facing a breathalyzer result in a Florida court:
One breathalyzer test alone is considered insufficient in Florida as experts agree that tests are subject to 12.5 percent inaccuracies in either direction. A breathalyzer operator in Florida must be licensed, otherwise a test result is inadmissible in court. Only results from breathalyzer models on the Federal List of Approved Breath Evidential Instruments can be used in court. Any malfunction or repair of a particular breathalyzer can invalidate results within a certain period before and after the error or repair.
In any criminal prosecution, the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That includes proving that the breathalyzer test results offered are accurate and reliable in every way.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI offense, contact an experienced DUI defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.