Defense ploy: Seek data on device
The manufacturer refuses to reveal certain details, and some cases are tossed.
MIAMI (AP) -- Timothy Muldowny's lawyers decided on an unconventional approach to fight his drunken driving case: They sought computer programming information for the Intoxilyzer alcohol breath analysis machine to see whether his test was accurate.
Their strategy paid off.
The company that makes the Intoxilyzer refused to reveal the computer source code for its machine because it was a trade secret. A county judge tossed out Muldowny's alcohol breath test -- a crucial piece of evidence in a DUI case -- and the ruling was upheld by an appeals court in 2004.
Since then, DUI suspects in Florida, New York, Nebraska and elsewhere have mounted similar challenges. Many have won or have had their DUI charges reduced to lesser offenses. The strategy could affect thousands of the roughly 1.5 million DUI arrests made each year in the United States, defense lawyers say.
"Any piece of equipment that is used to test something in the criminal justice system, the defense attorney has the ability to know how the thing works and subject its fundamental capabilities to review," said Flem Whited III, a Daytona Beach attorney with expertise on DUI defense.
Most commonly used
The Intoxilyzer, manufactured by CMI Inc. of Owensboro, Ky., is the most widely used alcohol breath testing machine in the United States and is involved in the vast majority of these legal challenges. It is used exclusively by law enforcement agencies in 20 states, including Florida, and by at least some police agencies in 20 other states, according to the company.
Most states have "implied consent" laws for motorists requiring DUI suspects to blow into a breath analysis machine if asked to do so by a police officer.
In Florida, state law currently considers a breath test valid if the machine is approved by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the person administering the test is qualified. The law also says that a defendant is entitled to "full information concerning the test taken" if such a request is made.
The meaning of that phrase is the key to the DUI challenges in Florida and other states with similar laws.
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