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Editorial: Set aside DUI cases linked to faulty testers

The Detroit News

So far, the Michigan State Police has identified 52 incidents in which faulty breath testing equipment produced inaccurate results in drunken driving cases. Fraud is suspected by the company that calibrated the equipment, MSP Director Col. Joe Gasper testified before a Senate committee.

This is a nightmare, both in terms of public safety and the justice system.

Four lawsuits point to comments by Michigan State Police director Col. Joseph Gasper reportedly made at a public meeting in October in which he said the agency was "way too white and way too male."

Those 52 individuals who either face charges or have been convicted of driving under the influence are subject to severe penalties under Michigan law, and can be out of pocket $10,000 or more in terms of fines and legal costs.

In addition, police departments in the state have been advised to stop using roadside breath tests until the scope of the inaccuracy is determined, and instead will have to take suspects to a medical facility to obtain urine or blood samples.

That will keep officers off the road for long stretches as they accompany suspects to clinics or hospitals.

But it's a prudent step. Expediency should never be prioritized over getting justice right. Unless police are certain the roadside breath testers are 100% accurate 100% of the time, blood and urine tests should become the standard practice in Michigan.

Motorists stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence would be smart to demand such tests, even after this current crisis passes.

As for the 52 cases the state police have identified so far as being connected to the faulty machines, the charges should be dismissed or convictions set aside. Those convicted should have their court fees and fines refunded, and should be compensated for attorney costs. 

The inaccurate equipment has been in use since 2018. There are possibly many more cases where bad readings have led to DUI charges and convictions.

A roadside preliminary breath test device, left, and a DataMaster DMT breath alcohol test instrument. Two employees of a firm that did maintenance and repairs on two Michigan police departments' DataMaster instruments face felony charges.

An expedited review should be conducted of all drunken driving cases in which the defective 203 Datamaster DMT instruments were used.

If police agencies are going to continue to administer roadside breath tests, tighter monitoring of the accuracy of the machines is needed. The company that provided the testers, Intoximeters, had just three employees servicing all of its devices in Michigan. The state police pays Intoximeters $1.2 million annually to test and certify its equipment twice a year.

That may not be often enough. In any case, the results of those tests should be easily accessible by the public, and anytime they are found to be out of calibration the DUI cases in which they had been used should be reviewed.

Drunken driving is a serious offense. Police need the best tools possible to keep intoxicated motorists off the road. 

But no one should face a DUI charge based on a faulty breath test.