03/23/2011

Faulty breath tests may doom Pa. DUI cases

Improperly calibrated breathalyzer machines used by Philadelphia PD could jeopardize more than 1,000 DUI cases

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Improperly calibrated breathalyzer machines used by Philadelphia police could mean that more than 1,000 drunk-driving cases dating to September 2009 are in jeopardy, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Some of the Philadelphia Police Department's eight breath-test machines weren't set up properly before November of last year, leading to incorrect readings in 1,147 cases, authorities said.

"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."

Ramsey said a defense attorney pointed out a discrepancy in test results last month, prompting authorities to examine the machines and check the readings against pending cases. More than 700 suspects had already been convicted using the faulty tests.

District Attorney Seth Williams said those defendants 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.

More than 400 suspects who are awaiting trial will be informed that the breath tests will not be used as evidence, officials said.

"Our interest is justice, not merely convictions," Williams said.

Ramsey said one law enforcement employee is responsible for maintaining the machines and an investigation is under way.

"The error was human error, and it is inexcusable. Period," Ramsey said. "It should not have happened."

Copyright 2011 Associated Press

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