Judge Rules Breath-Test Results Are Reliable

By James Schugel, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thousands of DWI cases could now be prosecuted after a Minnesota judge ruled the Intoxilyzer breath-testing machine is reliable.

Scott County Judge Jerome Abrams said there are errors in the Intoxilyzer’s source code, but that doesn’t affect the outcome of the results — except in only rare cases.

Abrams ruled that the breath-testing machine can be used as evidence against drunken driving suspects.

Minnesota Department of Public Safety spokesperson, Doug Neville, said Abram’s decision solidifies what the Department has been saying for years.

“We still believe they’re accurate, a very useful tool for law enforcement, and we’re excited now several thousand cases will move forward,” Neville said.

Defense attorneys have been challenging the Intoxilyzer results from about 3,000 DWI cases in the last four years.

Hundreds of lawyers have been involved in that challenge. They consider the Intoxiliyzer an archaic piece of machinery, dating back to 70s and 80s technology. They’ve argued a jury should not hear about the results the machine gives because the machine is not accurate.

Twin Cities Defense Attorney Marsh Halberg says he can still argue in court that the machine is bad.

“We can still attack this machine, have jury trails, litigate these issues. It all just goes to the next phase. We’re far from finished on this,” he said.

The Intoxilyzer breath test device is usually used when police give the test at stations after stopping drivers on the road. Many police departments across Minnesota have actually stopped using the machine, until this issue is resolved. They’ve been taking urine samples instead.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Twin Cities Defense Attorney Jeff Sheridan. He compared the Intoxilyzer to a “tinker toy running on a processor running the basic of computers.”

The judge’s decision will likely be appealed.

Neville said the judge’s decision has everything to do with public safety.

“The bottom line here is traffic safety. The bottom line is keeping drunk drivers off the road and having consequences for driving while intoxicated. So, those cases moving forward is a great step for public safety,” he said.

The state will start using new, state-of-the-art breath testing machines in the next few months.

“Our plan all along has been to eventually integrate and update and move into the future as we go,” Halberg said. “By our attack on this machine, I think we’ve showed the public and the court system how old this machines is, how archaic the processing is, and the need for new equipment.”


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