Faulty Breathalyzer Results Have Slight yet Significant Difference in Eight Spokane DUI Cases!


An erroneous spreadsheet formula resulting in hundreds of incorrect blood alcohol content readings during an 11-month period in Spokane has some significance in eight completed cases of DUI in Washington.

The Washington State Crime Laboratory in Cheney announced last week that an incorrect spreadsheet formula was used to record the blood alcohol test results in 584 cases between Ground Hog Day 2006 and January 4th of this year. The lab revealed that the results were unfavorable in only eight of those Washington DUI cases.

For some context, it is illegal to be driving or operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content level of 0.08 percent under the DUI laws in all 50 states. With that said, four of the Spokane DUI cases showed a 0.08 percent reading when it actually was 0.079 percent after taking into account the incorrect spreadsheet formula. An Associated Press story detailed that the suspects pleaded down to lesser offenses in those four Spokane DUI cases.

As for the other four Washington DUI cases in question, the suspects were accused of having a BAC of 0.15 percent when their blood alcohol content level was actually 0.149 percent. A BAC reading of 0.15 percent can spur on tougher DUI penalties, as was the case in two of these four cases in question.

Dr. Barry Logan, the director of the Washington State Patrol Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau, said in the story that the defendants in those two DUI cases have been contacted about the skewed results. Other lab officials also admitted that the Washington Department of Licensing and state prosecutors have been notified about the skewed breathalyzer results in the eight affected Spokane DUI cases.

As for the other 576 cases, Logan said that the skewed readings would not have made a difference in determining guilt or sentencing. So how did this snafu happen?

Logan said that the software used to calibrate the breath alcohol instruments was updated at the end of 2005, leading to the slight error in breath test readings. With that said, Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Brian O'Brien downplayed the significance of the faulty breath test results by saying in the story that it's rare for a person to be convicted solely on a single reading from a breathalyzer or other testing machine.

While such reasoning may be accepted in 576 of those Spokane DUI cases, it may not be as easily presentable to the former defendants in the eight completed yet affected DUI cases.

Ultimately, this story once again reveals the important lesson of how breathalyzer tests are far from perfect and may often be challenged.

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