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DC Police Defend DUI Enforcement, Even Without Breathalyzers

March 2, 2012 | No Comments »

Washington, DC Chief of Police, Cathy Lanier is standing firm on the city’s ability to enforce drunk driving laws even though the department’s breathalyzers remain out of commission because of calibration issues with the devices.

In fact, the department has been without breathalyzers for almost two years, after problems with the a contractor revealed the devices had not been properly calibrated and could be providing inaccurate results.

Urine samples have replaced  breath tests while DC police work to get breathalyzers back in service. In a recent city council meeting, Lanier touted 1,300 DUI arrests in the last year as evidence that enforcement has remained strong.

The city Attorney General also indicated to FOXdc.com that he is continuing to prospect cases based on the urine tests and testimony from arresting officer and judges continue to sentence DUI offenders to jail without breathalyzer scores to go on.

Why Breathalyzer Certification is Important

Here in Virginia, if a driver is suspected of DUI or DWI, a police officer will often ask that the person take a PBT (preliminary breath test) at the traffic stop. The results of the PBT cannot not be used against a driver at a trial. However,  the PBT results can be used by the officer to establish that he or she had probable cause to arrest a driver for DWI.

Only certain breathalyzers are approved for use in Virginia. The breath test device used by the officer to take the preliminary breath test must be on a list of machines approved by the Department of Forensic Science of Virginia.

If the PBT device is 1) not on the approved list or 2) has not been properly calibrated, an attorney can potentially  prevent police officer from providing evidence about the results of the PBT at a pre-trial hearing.

DC’s Breathalyzer Problem May Go Back a Decade

Breathalyzers are complex devices and they have to be maintained rigorously in order to produce accurate results in field conditions. In early 2011, Ilmar Paegle, the man who oversaw DC’s breathalyzer program blew the whistle on the city’s failure to perform accuracy testing on the city’s breath test machines.

In the course of a four page memo to the DC Assistant Attorney General, Kimberly Brown Paegle indicated that the accuracy test protocols required to ensure breathalyzers were properly calibrated had not been followed since at least 2000.

These failures, which the DC Attorney General’s office has attempted to downplay, took place under the supervision of Paegle’s predecessor, Officer Kelvin King, the former Chemical Testing Program Manager for the DC police.

Dozens, if not hundreds of past DUI cases could be effected by now-suspect breath test readings. Dozens of cases have been re-filed and many more pending cased dropped.  Several lawsuits have also been filed against the city as a result.



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