Breathalyzers in D.C. Are Back After 2-Year Hiatus

Motorists in Washington D.C. may again face police departments armed with breathalyzers, following a two-year hiatus connected to inflated results that led to dozens of faulty convictions. twobeers.jpg

Our Massachusetts DUI lawyers understand that the previous machines were producing readings that were, on average, about 20 percent too high. About two dozen of those convicted sued the city, and received a settlement of about $130,000. Hundreds more convictions have been called into question.

Metro Police say they have addressed the issues, but we would argue that no machine is every guaranteed 100 percent of the time. That’s a serious issue because those arrested and convicted of a DUI may serve jail time, lose their jobs and be compelled to pay heft fines. Breathalyzer results are often the key piece of evidence used in convictions.

Police say one of the reasons they have taken their time before re-implementing the breathalyzer program was that they wanted to ensure the program they had in place would be scientifically viable and able to hold up in court. However, we anticipate further legal challenges, particularly given the tougher DUI penalties that the city council approved over the summer. The measures were formally adopted Aug. 1.

Among those changes:

  • Jail time has doubled for someone who has a blood-alcohol level of between 0.20 percent and 0.24 percent. It has gone from five days to 10 days.
  • For someone who is arrested with a blood alcohol content of 0.25 percent or higher, the minimum jail sentence has been bumped to 15 days.
  • Drivers who are deemed drunk with a child in the vehicle now face a minimum of five days in jail, with minimum fines more than tripling, from $300 to $1,000.
  • Maximum DUI sentences have doubled, from a three months to six months.
  • Commercial drivers, those behind the wheel of taxis or trucks, can be prosecuted for a DUI if they have a blood alcohol content over 0.04 percent (below the regular legal limit for everyone else, which is 0.08 percent).

Although these measures are only in place for D.C. motorists, those in neighboring states or who travel frequently to the city should take note. It’s illustrative of a trend throughout New England: law enforcement and lawmakers continue to work together to make laws tougher on those convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Breathalyzers are frequently used by law enforcement agencies, both in Massachusetts and throughout the country, in DUI cases, and have been for years. During that time, numerous legal challenges have been raised regarding their accuracy.

For example, just this year in San Francisco, it was learned that the police department there had not been regularly testing the accuracy of breathalyzer machines. As such, hundreds and possibly thousands of DUI convictions handed out over the last six years could be overturned.

The problem is in the way these devices are designed. They measure the blood alcohol level as it can be found on your breath. This is essentially an estimate, and not an exact measure of what is in your blood. Plus, breathalyzers are designed to measure your BAC based on the average person. So your metabolism, sex, height and weight – which can each have an effect on whether are not you are actually intoxicated – are not taken into account.

Call (508) 455-4755 in Attleboro or (781) 686-5924 in Stoughton. Free Consultation 24/7.

Get a free copy of DUI Defense Attorney Michael Delsignore’s book “Understanding Massachusetts Drunk Driving Laws.”

Additional Resources:
Breathalyzers Return as DC Cops Crackdown on Drunk Drivers, Sept. 28, 2012, Associated Press
More Blog Entries:
DUI Checkpoint Arrests in Massachusetts – Stay Safe This Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 1, 2012, Massachusetts DUI Lawyer Blog

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