Philadelphia DA Seth Williams announces DUI breath tests were compromised since September, 2009

In a recent announcement, the Philadelphia District attorney’s office announced that the breathalyzer evidence relied on in over one thousand cases since September, 2009 was   This is a serious acknowledgment that scientific evidence relied upon by the Commonwealth in many drunk driving cases was not scientifically reliable.

This is an important evidence problem for the District Attorney’s office.  Pennsylvania DUI laws permit a scientific test, generated by a machine called the Intoxilyzer 8000, to be the true basis for guilt or innocence, jail or no jail, in a large portion of Philadelphia DUI prosecutions.  One particular machine identified as faulty was the Intoxilyzer 8000, Serial No. 80-002187 (BBB); other information suggests the Intoxilyzer coded FFF was also faulty.  Prior to admission of this evidence, a judge determines if the evidence was properly gathered.    Once the breath test result is admitted into evidence, defendants have limited options to win their case because DUI is a strict liability crime:  with blood alcohol evidence, all the Commonwealth must prove is that the BAC exceeded 0.08 percent and defendant operated a motor vehicle.

In 1998 Federal Department of Transportation regulations changed, requiring the states to change their DUI laws by lowering the legal driving under the influence limit to a .08 BAC.  To comply with this edict, in early 2002 the Pennsylvania General Assembly amended Pennsylvania’s DUI law to punish offender’s on a sliding scale with penalties increasing for subsequent offenses and for elevated providing for a sliding scale of penalties for DUI offenders.  Based upon an accused’s prior DUI record and level of alcohol in their blood, from .08 to above .159, mandatory minimum jail times, fines, and license suspensions became varied.  As this penalty grid indicates, for example, a person convicted of a 2nd offense DUI with the highest BAC, above .16, could go to jail for at least 90 days under new law.

District Attorney Seth Williams said those defendants convicted with this unreliable evidence will be offered new trials, but noted that some cases will hold up without the tests if they’re based on other evidence, including blood tests or officer observations.  However, the Philadelphia Police and District Attorney’s office acknowledged that the severe mandatory minimum sentences cannot be applied on these cases because the enhanced penalty evidence is not reliable.   “We screwed up, folks,” police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters at a news conference. “We screwed up, plain and simple, and now we are paying for it.”  In cases based This other evidence will include the police officer’s testimony that in their opinion a given defendant was “not capable of safe driving” as provided in the general impairment provision of Pennsylvania’s DUI statute.  However, a person’s DUI conviction mandatory minimum penalties will be substantially reduced.  As the penalty grid on my web site states, the 2nd time DUI offender’s mandatory minimum sentence will now be five days versus 90 days if there is a finding of guilt.

Please call my office to discuss any questions you have regarding this issue.

Articles regarding this recent development can be found here and here.

 

 

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