While a driver may be arrested for a DUI, there are several obstacles that the prosecutor must overcome before successfully convicting that driver on official charges.
Potential errors made by police officers during a DUI arrest include failing to follow standard police procedures, conducting an illegal search or seizure, or giving a faulty breathalyzer test.
Errors such as flawed breathalyzer tests can be a legal nightmare for police departments, as evidenced by a recent incident in Kentucky in which several alleged DUI drivers may be set free after the police made a very technical mistake.
According to an investigative report from Louisville’s Courier-Journal, the results from alcohol breath tests that were used against roughly 600 drivers may be inadmissible in court after police discovered that four lab technicians had let their licenses lapse.
In what the local prosecutor called a “very unfortunate situation,” hundreds of breath test results have been challenged because they were performed by lab technicians who were working with expired certifications.
The inadmissibility of these breath tests could lead to dropped cases against hundreds of suspected DUI drivers because the breath tests are often the best evidence police can present against people suspected of drunk driving.
According to a Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell, whose cases will be weakened if the breath tests results are thrown out, these tests represent “the single most important piece of evidence at trial.”
He also observed that the results of portable breathalyzer tests, which are used in the field as a first line of detection by police officers, are not admissible in court because of their unreliability.
Thus, police typically rely on blood or breath tests that are administered at the police station after the arrest. These tests, it appears, are much more reliable than the portable units used by police officers.
O’Connell expects that many DUI lawyers will try to reverse convictions for their clients that were supported by faulty tests.
He fears that many convicted drunk drivers may be released, unless state authorities can support their convictions with other compelling evidence, such as video of the driver during the arrest, witness testimony, or the results of field sobriety tests.
And, even if the defendants are able to escape DUI charges, prosecutors may still try to convict them on other charges, like public intoxication, disturbing the peace, alcohol intoxication, and wanton endangerment, none of which require breath tests at trial.
Despite these potential alternatives, though, Louisville police are embarrassed by the incident, which they claim is very rare and hasn’t happened before in Jefferson County.
Of course, while the police and state attorneys may be upset, there are hundreds of suspected drunk drivers in Louisville who can’t believe their good fortune.