DUI appeals could jam Pennsylvania courts
A Dauphin County judge's decision questioning the accuracy of widely used devices to measure blood-alcohol levels could bring scrutiny to thousands of drunken-driving convictions, lawyers said Wednesday.
Dauphin County Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. ruled on Monday that machines, such as Breathalyzers and Intoxilyzers, used to measure a driver's sobriety can't be considered accurate for blood-alcohol contents readings between zero and 0.05 percent and beyond 0.15 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.
Because of Clark's decision, police in his county can't use the devices to determine whether someone is intoxicated enough for prosecution under the state's highest level of DUI impairment. State law requires one year in jail for drivers who register a reading twice the legal limit — 0.16 percent or higher.
“That would have a tremendous impact,” said Pittsburgh lawyer David J. Shrager, who handles DUI cases. “It's going to really be attacking a lot of convictions, and it's also going to be fruit for future cases. If this were to go statewide, everyone who was convicted would have to be retried or they'd have to be prosecuted at a lower tier.”
The judge's ruling stems from a challenge filed by Harrisburg lawyer Justin McShane. He based it on how police calibrate the machines, said Tim Barrouk, a senior litigation associate at McShane's firm.
State police use alcohol solutions of 0.05 percent, 0.10 percent and 0.15 percent to calibrate the devices, Barrouk said. If prosecutors appeal the decision and the Superior Court affirms it, “it's something that would be sure to spread to other counties.”
Dauphin County District Attorney Edward M. Marsico Jr. could not be reached regarding whether his office will appeal.
Whitehall police Chief Donald Dolfi, president of the Western Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said he never has heard of accuracy problems with the devices. Dolfi said his department takes suspected drunken drivers to a hospital to have blood drawn.
“I'm not going to say that blood is more accurate than the Intoxilyzer. The decision level for my department is our proximity to two hospitals,” Dolfi said. “For the safety of everybody involved, I thought it was more prudent to use blood.”
Shrager said that even if the machine reading is inadmissible, an officer's testimony still could lead to a conviction. Appealing convictions would be up to individuals, he said.
“A lot of people may not want to take that chance,” Shrager said.
Judges issued nearly 13,000 sentences for the highest rate of DUI charges in 2011, according to state police figures. Barrouk said about 70 percent of those relied on evidence from the machines.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com.
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.
- Pittsburgh cracks down on overcrowded houses
- Woman sought in ‘friendly fire’ fatal shooting in Brighton Heights
- W.Va. natural gas line explodes near Ohio border
- Pittsburgh police say officers in video did not use excessive force
- U.S. Marshals fugitive task force arrests man wanted in McKeesport homicide
- Charges officially dropped against Ford, who is recovering from surgery
- Three arrested in armed robbery in Lawrenceville
- Mt. Lebanon High School to sell its planetarium equipment
- Newsmaker: Bill Gruber
- Developer wants to keep historic atom smasher in Forest Hills
- Appellate court upholds most of jury’s verdict against officials of Lemington Home for the Aged