For about thirty years I have been trying criminal and civil cases. I am, as a result, a skeptic.  Consider this news from the City of Brotherly Love – and the scientific marvel that is the Breathalyzer.  It comes to us from

Philadelphia To Review All Breathalyzer-DUI Cases From 15 Months

Philadelphia, PA. March 25 — A day after Philadelphia police announced that miscalibrated breathalyzers had compromised 1,147 drunken-driving cases, District Attorney Seth Williams declared he would conduct a wholesale review of all DUI cases during the 15 months in question.

Philadelphia police file 8,000 to 10,000 drunken-driving cases each year, so the review announced Thursday by Williams’ office will involve a staggering amount of work that will take months to complete.

Deputy District Attorney Edward McCann, chief of the Criminal Division, decided to launch the review, said Williams’ spokeswoman, Tasha Jamerson. Assistant District Attorney Lynn Nichols will lead a team of prosecutors and staff that will examine the cases from September 2009 to November 2010.

McCann is also implementing training on DUI cases for prosecutors that will emphasize recognizing potential problems with the Breathalyzer devices.

Finally, Jamerson said, the District Attorney’s Office will start doing its own calibration checks on Breathalyzers rather than depend solely on police certification.

The real bill will be some time in coming.

Besides the cost of reviewing thousands of DUI prosecutions and likely retrying some, the police and city could face civil lawsuits by people wrongly convicted – some of whom may have lost their driver’s license, their job, or their freedom.

Though police officials have a list of about 400 people affected by the miscalibrated machines, Jamerson said Williams had decided a full review was needed.

Though defense lawyers specializing in DUI cases said only two of the Police Department’s eight Breathalyzers had proved inaccurate, police said Wednesday that the total was four. Some court-system sources said that number was likely to increase.

So let me ask you this: If you have been charged with driving under the influence and a machine says you are guilty, are you guilty? I mean – machines don’t lie.  Do they? We have gotten to the point that it is nearly impossible to convince a jury that the machines are not subject to error.  

Don’t drink and drive – it never ends well and can be your most costly missed cab ride.  But if you are charged with DUI, think about challenging the machine. It may just be inaccurate.

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