Use of breathalyzer under review among Pennsylvania law enforcement agencies
By Bethany Hofstetter
Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Many law enforcement agencies in western Pennsylvania are reviewing the use of breathalyzer tests during DUI stops after a ruling in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas raised concerns about the tests' reliability.
On Dec. 31, Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. threw out a DUI charge after the defendant proved that there is no evidentiary proof that the breathalyzer machines are accurate past 0.15 percent blood-alcohol content. The Dauphin County District Attorney filed an appeal to that ruling to the state Superior Court.
Following the ruling, the Pennsylvania State Police have temporarily suspended the use of breathalyzer machines in favor of blood testing starting last month and local police departments are now deciding if they should follow suit.
The Dauphin County ruling showed that the breathalyzer tests using the IntoxilyzerEN 5000, which is used in many departments throughout the state, only are tested for accuracy at the 0.05, 0.1 and the 0.15 blood-alcohol content level. Attorneys therefore could not prove that the blood-alcohol content above 0.15, which is the highest level of DUI impairment with the most serious fines and penalties, was accurate.
“We know experimentally that at 0.16, at 0.2 its fine,” said Dr. Karl Williams, Allegheny County medical examiner. “At 0.15 that line doesn't fall apart and go back to zero or go up to 100, but that's what was argued scientifically.”
In Allegheny County, law enforcement agencies are looking at their procedures in light of the Dauphin County ruling.
Last week, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala issued a memo to the Allegheny County Chiefs of Police outlining new procedures to use blood testing in some situations, such as when a breath test does not fall within the 0.05 to 0.15 range, until the breathalyzer machines throughout the county can be recalibrated to higher levels.
“I've been in meetings about implications about the ruling, and it's very much in flux,” Williams said. “We're adapting the new procedures in the lab to this ruling.”
The medical examiner's office certifies 28 breathalyzer locations throughout the county. Each machine is tested for accuracy every 30 days, and once per year the machines are calibrated at three levels of blood-alcohol content, 0.05, 0.1 and 0.15.
Starting this month, each machine will be calibrated up to 0.3 blood-alcohol content level to comply with the concerns raised through the Dauphin County ruling.
In his memo, Zappala wrote the recalibration should be complete by March. Until then, police departments throughout Allegheny County will take extra measures to ensure an accurate and reliable test.
Cranberry Township Police Sgt. Chuck Mascellino has been with the department for 17 years and said the department discontinued use of its breathalyzer machine not long after he started.
“Most everybody in Butler County uses blood,” Mascellino said, adding that drivers are taken to UPMC Cranberry or Butler Memorial hospitals where a PennDOT certified laboratory technician takes the blood samples and tests it.
“The most accurate (test) is clearly the blood sample,” Mascellino said. “We haven't had anything suppressed that I can recall lately.”
Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: NHL stuck in stone age
- Steelers defense’s rapid decline looks similar to that of Steel Curtain’s
- PNC plans to do away with tellers
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger comes to Haley defense again
- Pittsburgh police investigating two overnight robberies
- Pirates general manager Huntington is searching for right player, deal
- Penguins’ Neal apologizes, vows to be better
- Highmark health plan enrollment skyrockets from Healthcare.gov
- Plumcreek fire victim identified
- Woodley says he’s fine with move to right side despite numbers
- Man shot by Pennsylvania state police at Pittsburgh International Airport was key witness in Massachusetts murder trial