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Pending DWI Cases Head Back To Court, After Ruling

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Supreme Court found Wednesday that the Intoxilyzer breath test for blood-alcohol content is reliable, a ruling that allows more than 4,000 drunken driving cases to move forward.

In a 4-3 ruling, the high court agreed with a district judge that although the Intoxilyzer 5000EN’s source code contains errors its overall accuracy isn’t affected.

The decision sends more than 4,000 drunken driving cases back to district courts in Minnesota. The cases were placed on hold during a six-year legal fight in state and federal courts.

Defense attorneys have long challenged the reliability of the testing device. In 2006, a Northfield man contested his drunken driving charge, arguing that unless he had access to the device’s computer software, it could not be determined if the Intoxilyzer was working properly. Soon after, attorneys representing DWI defendants followed suit.

In 2011, a Dakota County district judge ruled the device could be used as evidence of intoxication. The state Supreme Court agreed Wednesday, noting in its opinion that the validity of the Intoxilyzer could still be challenged if there are problems with the device, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Marsh Halberg, one of six attorneys who made up the source-code trial team during litigation, told the Star Tribune they were disappointed by the overall outcome. He had not yet had a chance to read the order.

The device is generally used when police give blood-alcohol tests at police stations after stopping drunken driving suspects on the road. The device measures blood-alcohol level through a breath test. By the end of this summer, the device should be phased out for DataMaster DMT-G devices, which are already in use in some places.

In the order, Justice Barry Anderson wrote that the state of Minnesota “established by a preponderance of the evidence” that the Intoxilyzer was reliable and not affected by the computer code errors.

The court also ruled that the defendants’ fair trial rights were not violated by preventing the source code errors from being presented at their trials.

In his dissent, Justice Alan Page wrote that he disagreed that the rulings did not violate the defendants’ fair trial rights.

The devices are designed to take two readings of a driver’s blood-alcohol content at once, using two methods. Last month, the BCA told law enforcement agencies it had shut off one of the testing methods, using fuel-cell technology, until inconsistencies in the cells’ shelf life are corrected.

The Minnesota State Patrol and other police agencies have used the Intoxilyzer 5000EN since 1997.

According to the majority ruling, defense attorneys could still fight the validity of the device on a case-by-case basis if there are problems with the machine or the person operating it doesn’t follow the testing protocols.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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