Breath Tests Found Unreliable & Thrown Out in Washington State Court

Once again the courts have gotten fed up with such sloppy and dishonest police practices that they have thrown out the whole procedure until it is fixed. This time it’s in Seattle Washington. King County District Judges Steiner, Phillipson and Chow said there were so many ethical lapses at the state toxicology lab that the breath test result should not be admitted at trial.

The judges said the lab’s work on breath tests over the past several years had so many problems that they were completely unreliable. Therefore, these tests will not be allowed into evidence in this court.

Prosecutors can still pursue their cases with other evidence, such observations of bad driving or field sobriety tests, but not the breath tests. This will affect not only future prosecutions but could allow defendants already convicted to appeal their convictions if based on these breath tests.

Although this ruling affects only the members of the panel of judges who made the ruling, it could influence the other eighteen district judges in the King County, the largest county in the state of Washington, and it could cause judges in other counties to follow suit.

King County prosecutes approximately 5,000 drunk driving cases every year. Previously, Snohomish County, Washington, judges threw out breath test results for about forty cases for the same reason of unreliability of the state lab work.

This ruling was the result of a hearing that lasted for seven days and produced evidence of false certification of solutions used to verify breath tests, improper rejection of data, mistaken switched data, and reliance on software that miscalculated data.

Many defense attorneys from the state joined to pay the $25,000 costs to pay for the expert witnesses, transcripts and other expenses it took to challenge the work of the state toxicology laboratory. One of these lawyers commented that they it was a matter of the integrity of the justice system.

The King County judges told prosecutors they could later try to admit evidence of breath tests after they demonstrated the lab’s practices had been remedied. This will no doubt help put the burden of proof back on police and prosecutors rather than requiring innocent people to prove that false evidence is being used against them.

After all, our country was founded on the principal that the accused is presumed innocent, until proven guilty, not the other way around.


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