In an update from my post in March, the Washington Post is now stating 400 people were convicted of DWI in the DC metro area since 2008 based on inaccurate results of breath tests. In March they were investigating the machines and had already pulled several from use. Now, the Post is reporting that all 10 of the department’s breathalyzers were calibrated incorrectly.
One employee was in charge of maintaining the machine and calibrated them all inappropriately, setting the baseline alcohol concentration levels to provide false positives. According to the post, the “badly calibrated equipment would show a driver’s blood-alcohol content to be about 20% higher than it actually was.”
The defendant’s involved in these cases are said to have served an average of 5 day in jail. At least one lawsuit has already been filed against the city for the mistake with likely more to come. According to the article, they are still in the process of contacting all of the involved parties and their attorneys.
The Post profiles just one of the affected defendants who is currently on probation for the offense. He served time in jail and now has to wait to apply for the citizenship he seeks because of the criminal charge. He states he didn’t believe the high number on the breath test when it occurred but plead guilty rather than spend the time and money to fight the charge at the time.
Breathalyzers are notoriously wrought with error. From faulty calibration to user error, the results are not dependable and often a point of contention when a DWI charge goes to court. This story, no doubt, only serves to bolster my opinion that a breath test is not fail proof evidence and certainly can’t carry a DWI case alone.
Like the defendant profiled in the Post, a conviction of DWI can have lasting effects, whether it’s your first or not. Jail time, fines, suspended license, the repercussions are many and can be difficult to live with.