D.C. left with no trained employee able to calibrate Intoximeters in DUI cases.

In every case, the government has the burden to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a highly debated standard. However, everyone is in firm agreement that the government must have significant evidence that the defendant committed the alleged crime in order to prevail at trial.

When the government charges an individual with driving under the influence (DUI), they need to have evidence to support the charge. Usually, the government’s evidence for DUI cases include the results of various tests that officers administer when they suspect a driver of driving under the influence. The major tests include:

  • Field Sobriety Test (FST): At the scene, the officer submits the driver to tests intended to show balance, eye movements, and cognitive abilities. If the driver fails the FST, the officer will usually administer one of the scientific tests, discussed below.
  • Blood Test: Blood tests are often considered the most accurate test, because blood tests literally determine the percentage of alcohol in the blood, or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC), from the individual. A blood test shows alcohol or drugs in the driver’s system at the time of the test.
  • Urine Test: Urine tests are usually seen as the least accurate test because the test results are dependent on when and how often the individual empties his or her bladder.
  • Breath Test: Breath tests determine how much alcohol is in the portion of the breath exhaled into the device. Officers usually administer breath tests on the scene, and the results often contribute to the officer’s decision to arrest the driver for a DUI.

Of all of these tests, the government most frequently relies on breath tests when prosecuting DUI cases. In Washington, D.C., the police use Intoximeters to conduct these breath tests. However, the Washington Post recently reported that only one of the police department’s eight Intoximeters has been in use this summer.

The Intoximeters are required to be regularly calibrated in order to ensure accuracy. The results of the breath test are not supposed to be allowed into evidence unless the police department can ensure that the Intoximeter was properly calibrated.

Apparently, the only employee at the police department who knew how to calibrate the Intoximeters quit early this summer. Because no one else in the entire department knew how to calibrate the breath machines, the police could not use the other seven Intoximeters. There was literally only one Intoximeter in use in the entire District of Columbia throughout summer.

The spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General who prosecutes DUI cases, called the impact “minimal.” As you can image, the numbers do not support that assertion.

In reality, police arrested far less people on suspicion of DUI this summer – specifically, 179 people compared to 249 people last summer. This is a 28.11% decrease in DUI arrests. It is possible that this decrease was intentional in order to avoid the chaos that occurred in 2011, when a similar equipment deficiency cost the city over $300,000 in civil settlements to individuals convicted using faulty equipment.

According to the Post, the police labor union leaders said the deficiency this summer has led to an increase in Operating While Impaired (OWI) charges, which is the easiest “drunk driving” offense to prove and carries the lightest penalties. The OWI charge carries the lightest penalties of a maximum sentence of 90 days and only requires the government to prove that the individual’s ability to operate a vehicle was noticeably impaired.

As far as the Intoximeters, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said that they have finally hired an employee to replace the one employee who knew how to calibrate the machines. Further, they claim that they are training multiple employees on how to calibrate the machines so that this kind of embarrassment does not happen in the future.