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33 Colorado DUI cases affected by badly calibrated breath tester

A criminal case can involve a lot of people a Boulder defendant never sees. A technician in a state lab assesses blood alcohol content levels that determine the fate of Colorado drivers charged with DUI. Criminal defense attorneys know machines and people aren't 100 percent reliable -- results of breath and blood tests can be wrong.

In Weld County, just east of Boulder, attorneys are being notified about a human mistake that may have affected the outcomes of 33 drunk-driving cases. The head of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the breath test machine an agency technician used was not faulty. The calibration of the machine was.

A wrongly-calibrated breath tester can give a false reading and, therefore, lead to a false accusation against a defendant. A single machine apparently was inaccurately calibrated from August 2013 until January. The state came up with the number of test results it "could not endorse" by reviewing 12,000 Weld County case records.

State officials didn't get into the technical details about the employee's slip-up. However, the affected department changed its protocol after the calibration error was discovered. The department also didn't divulge what happened to the technician, other than the announcement that he or she had been disciplined.

Reports left out what model of breath tester was improperly calibrated, although Colorado was the first in the nation to employ Intoxilyzer 9000s -- 165 of the breathing testing machines were bought for statewide use last year. Attorneys who represent DUI defendants are vigilant about looking for errors that skew toxicology tests and breath test readings. A mistake like this or a machine defect can cause a drunk-driving case to be reopened and a conviction to be overturned.

No stone goes unturned in the preparation of a defendant's case. If evidence exists that disputes a DUI charge, a defense attorney will find it.

Source: KUSA, "State finds problems with breathalyzer results" Blair Shiff and Chris Vanderveen, Jun. 05, 2014

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