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Suit against breath tests dismissed

By Tessie Borden
The Arizona Republic Online
August 11, 2000
Web posted at: 11:35 AM EDT (1535 GMT)

PHOENIX, Arizona (The Arizona Republic Online) -- A Maricopa County judge Thursday upheld the validity of breath tests taken by police with the Intoxilyzer 5000 machine in DUI cases.

The decision effectively dismisses a suit filed by defense attorneys who claimed that prosecutors and lab technicians concealed unfavorable evidence from the breath-testing equipment.

"This was a good ruling for law enforcement," Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley said. "For a long time, there's been a cloud over the entire criminal justice system because of this case. Now that cloud is lifted and we can proceed."

The attorneys, who wanted thousands of drunk-driving cases dismissed, said defendants were denied due process when officials hid false-positive tests obtained while the machines were being calibrated for accuracy. Department of Public Safety lab technicians have acknowledged that test errors and false-positives are routinely not sent to a computer database that provides information to defense lawyers.

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But prosecutors said the defense attorneys' allegations were ridiculous because the machines worked properly when used in the field.

The case halted thousands of DUI prosecutions throughout the state while the question was being decided. Police departments throughout Arizona use the Intoxilyzer 5000 for sobriety tests.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Susan Bolton sided with the prosecutors, saying in a written decision that the accuracy of the Intoxilyzer 5000 has been widely recognized, and that defendants have other means of impeaching the reliability of the machines.

The judge ruled that defendants have computer access to all calibration test results, even if all of those results do not appear in printout form. Bolton said that other internal checks performed during tests by the machines also insure the results' accuracy.

"All of these safeguards at the time of the subject test caused the State's expert to opine that while the quality assurance procedures are required by statute and are probably a valid periodic check on the instrument, those procedures bear little relevance to the accuracy of a given subject test," Bolton wrote.

"The Court concludes that a validly completed test has little if any chance of unreliability."

Defense attorneys could not be reached for comment Thursday night.



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