Philadelphia city officials announced yesterday that four of their eight breathalyzer machines had given false readings in 1,147 instances, taking place from September 2009 through November 2010. Although these machines are supposed to be tested and calibrated on a regular basis, they were not, and they gave readings that were substantially higher than they should have been.
Just to give you an idea of the scale this represents, these officials stated that the police had arrested about 8,000 to 10,000 people on DUI charges last year. Thus these erroneous findings would represent 9.2% to 11.5% of those cases, on average.
Police and prosecutors are quick to point out, however, that this does not mean that all of those cases will now be dismissed. They are simply being opened for new trials. According to the article,
"[District Attorney Seth] Williams said he expected a good portion of the convictions to hold up without the results, based on other evidence. . . Even without results, a prosecutor may call the arresting officer to testify about a driver's 'general impairment' - symptoms such as unsteady gait, slurring of words, or the odor of alcohol on the breath."
Just how much of an impact this will have on convictions remains to be seen, but it does illustrate how much the state relies on these machines to determine impairment of drivers, and how careful all concerned must be in using the results of these tests.
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