Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened.

Thousands of people in Florida convicted of DUI may not have been drunk at all. They very well may have been under the allowable blood alcohol limit. The problem may have been law enforcement not calibrating the breathalyzer called the Intoxilyzer 8000.

Now, the 10 News Investigators have uncovered documents and emails that prove the state knew there were problems and didn’t do anything to correct it for more than two and half years . . .

The 10 News Investigators obtained letters where a Sarasota deputy noticed there was a problem recording breath samples and breath flow levels as far back as 2007. He wrote in his notes that he even alerted an inspector who agreed there was a problem.

Those notes prompted an email from the head of the breath testing program, Laura Barfield, telling inspectors not to write down flow sensor problems in their field notes. . .

“As we found, almost half of every Intoxilyzer 8000 used in the state of Florida is not properly calibrated. There are enormous implications. I would tell anybody convicted of DUI using the breath test over the past few years they may want to talk to their lawyer because this information the state wouldn’t tell anybody about,” says Harrison.

While several people, including Bob Marois, who were arrested for DUI using faulty machines have had their convictions thrown out, they ended up losing their licenses for up to a year, having their mug shot forever online, and spending thousands defending themselves.

Not to mention that a DUI can get you fired from your job, ruin your reputation, and have all sorts of other extra-legal implications. It’s really astonishing (in a moral way, not a surprising way) that these idiots could allow people’s lives be seriously disrupted, sometimes ruined—and for more people to continue to be falsely implicated—rather than admit to a fixable mistake.

In a just world, the people who covered all of this up would suffer the same sort of repercussions those falsely convicted of DUI did. That isn’t going to happen.

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26 Responses to “Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted”

  1. #1 |  Bob | 

    Oh, they’re “Calibrated Properly”. That is, calibrated to produce more arrests.

  2. #2 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    You know something’s *seriously* wrong with your state when the de facto
    motto becomes “Come on vacation, leave on Probation.”

  3. #3 |  andyinsdca | 

    Huh, with all of these neutral parties involved, I’m shocked that this happened. After all, the cops aren’t motivated by external pressure to get more DUI arrests, the breathalyzer company wants its machines to be used in a fair, reliable manner and the state definitely doesn’t want to collect revenue (fines) from innocent people.

  4. #4 |  Charlie O | 

    Of course they didn’t fix the analyzers. There’s too much money to be made in DUI arrests.

  5. #5 |  Brandon | 

    But of course you’re just crazy if you suggest that DUI laws need to be changed.

  6. #6 |  fwb | 

    Not only does the Breathalyzer need to be calibrated but the officers need to be certified concerning the use of the units. This certification requires a recert which may be yearly or even quarterly.

    A friend of mine was thrown off a jury when he (PhD Chemist) questioned when the officer was last trained and when the equipment was last calibrated.

    I direct a large testing lab and my folks must prove their equipment EVERY time they run a batch of samples. We have multiple source requirements for our qc samples and standards. In some states, RADAR units must be checked daily before use so similar questions arise in their use too.

  7. #7 |  Mannie | 

    It’s really astonishing (in a moral way, not a surprising way) that these idiots could allow people’s lives be seriously disrupted, sometimes ruined—and for more people to continue to be falsely implicated—rather than admit to a fixable mistake.

    I’m astonished that you’re astonished. It has never been about public welfare, it’s been about fine-farming.

  8. #8 |  David Gross | 

    The problem is NOT with the line cops who are doing their jobs in the interest of public safety and who are given these tools to work with. They want to do a good, faithful job; and they are the ones who sent their questions “upstairs” for resolution.

    The problem is with the Executive Branch “tool” managers who are too proud, too lazy, or too incompetent to execute the “policy” of the constitution and the laws. It’s hubris. They should be fired. There simply is no plausible excuse for believing in “magic,” instead assuring scientific accuracy, especially when the law makes the result “conclusive” as a matter of law.

    Initial and periodic calibration of the machines, as well as double-checking the results and calibration against a known calibration standard in EVERY administered test, is required by law in Minnesota, where I live.

    There was some due process concerns concerning the source code and questions about internal processing of the data (a possible upward bias in the margin of error and analysis of the double samples taken at different points in the breath stream which didn’t give a “the tie goes to the base-runner” result in the close case, the principle of lenity) with the Intoxilyzer 5000 machines a few years ago, and the company didn’t want to disclose its proprietary trade secret information to the defense or to the courts for fear of losing it to competitors. The machines are rarely used, anymore, if at all, a urine or blood test being more sure to be accepted as accurate, although more expensive and cumbersome and slow to administer.

    The old Breathalyzer (Trademarked name, friends; be careful, here), were replaced by by the Intoxilyzers (which have a “black box” system), because the Breathalyzers were manually operated and subject to the criticism that the operator could “dial a drunk,” if s/he wanted, putting the professionalism and integrity of the operator in issue in every case. And, besides, the system used an ampule of Sulfuric Acid in every test to capture the breath moisture and alcohol vapor for measurement. So computerized, automatic “Black Box” methodology and different technology was seen as a panacea for such issues.

    But, somebody who was bedazzled by black box automation and computerized technology forgot that, with computers, a “garbage” data process; or a “garbage” calibration with a good data process; or worse yet, a ganging of garbage calibration with a garbage data process; even assuming an accurate measurement technology, still still results in GIGO, and you get GARBAGE.

  9. #9 |  Aresen | 

    Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted

    Well, I understand the tests were administered by pricks.

  10. #10 |  Bob | 

    #4 | Charlie O

    Of course they didn’t fix the analyzers. There’s too much money to be made in DUI arrests.

    Well, they probably fixed the ones that read too low. Probably really fast, too!

  11. #11 |  Michael P ack | 

    A easy way to prevent this is to only have reckless driving on the books as a crime.If you cause a accident or it can be proven your driving recklessly then you will be punished.Of course the standard for reckless op would need to be well defined and vidieo proff would be very usefull.This could have one negitive effect [for cops and MADD]Arrests and fines would most likey plummit.Remember,for every one dui arrest 9according to MADD] hundreds of others are not caught,i.e. drove safely.

  12. #12 |  paranoiastrksdp | 

    The intoxilyzer 8000…

    I am just shocked that a piece of diagnostic equipment with a moniker that sounds like it came out of the back of a 1960’s comic book turned out to be an inaccurate piece of shit. I hope the X-ray specs worked at least.

  13. #13 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    I served on a jury for a DUI case in Florida back in 1995, and we took less than five minutes to come back with a “not guilty” verdict.

    The case was utterly appalling: The breathalyzer in question had been having major unresolved technical difficulties for YEARS, and the arresting deputy had been a LEO for less than four months, wasn’t certified on use of the machine and didn’t even know the proper protocol for a roadside sobriety test –– all of which the defense attorney pointed out. Knowing all of this, the prosecutor still had put the screws to the defendant for a year and a half trying to squeeze him into a guilty plea.

    I spoke with the poor bastard after the trial, and he said it had cost him more than $20,000 to fight the charge. At least he won, I guess.

  14. #14 |  Mario | 

    But, if it “saves just one life,” who cares how many it ruins!

  15. #15 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “I spoke with the poor bastard after the trial, and he said it had cost him more than $20,000 to fight the charge. ”

    I think mine cost $17,500.
    People forget, the DUI lawyers who make a fortune on this shit
    have no desire to change the horribly misguided status quo.

  16. #16 |  Fascist Nation | 

    Did prosecutors know? They are required to immediately provide exculpatory evidence or face the same maximum penalty that the defendant faced to encourage them to come forward with such evidence. Nah.

  17. #17 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    #YizmoGizmo – there’s certainly a contingent of atty’s who want the status quo continued b/c of personal financial benefit, but that argument is essentially the same one about doctors removing limbs b/c they make a lot of money on it. However the status quo can be greatly improved, made much more fair for people arrested and done in a way that the atty’s still make a lot of money – in many cases more. It was here in SC that the DUI attorneys collectively lobbied to change the law so that the entire arrest, from when they first start following the car to reading rights, must be video taped. On the one hand such a policy seems like it’d hurt defendants (if you’re drunk it’ll be open and closed) but the status quo was so screwed up everyone but the cops are benefitting from it. The Status quo was greatly changed, but that doesn’t mean people are filing their own suppression motions… they’re still using attorneys. I’m not one to defend attys in general, but criminal defense guys in general and drug and duo attys in particular seem to have a lot higher percentage that cares about defendant’s rights

  18. #18 |  Windy | 

    My younger son got stopped one night and was arrested for DUI, he couldn’t pass the roadside sobriety test (he had survived a brain aneurysm bursting 5 years ago and also has serious spinal degeneration — he’s certified with a 4 location disability). My son went to trial instead of taking a plea because he knew he was not drunk. The cop who arrested him testified he “knew” my son was drunk even though he blew “just under point oh eight (.08)”.

    Under cross by my son’s attorney, the cop was forced to state the actual level my son blew, it was point oh three (.03). The jury acquitted my son and that cop lost a lot of credibility with those jurors.

    Too bad he probably will never testify in front of any one of them again. The court and the LE agency don’t care that he lost credibility.

  19. #19 |  A Few Random Morning Links … | The Pretense of Knowledge | 

    […] Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted […]

  20. #20 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “Those notes prompted an email from the head of the breath testing program, Laura Barfield, telling inspectors not to write down flow sensor problems in their field notes. . .”

    Ah, well problem solved. We’ll fix it by sweeping it under the carpet and pretending everything is just fine. Just keep meeting those quotas and sucking up those federal grant dollars on the holidays, boys! Laura Barfield needs to be the first one to see the inside of a prison cell.

  21. #21 |  marco73 | 

    I’ve lived in Florida for decades, and getting stopped for DUI has nothing to do with public safety, and everything to do with fine/tax collection.
    Its all about making the numbers, so that the federal and state cash for wolf packs and checkpoints (and the sweet. sweet nectar of overtime) keep flowing.
    The machine has little to do with it. I know someone in my office that blew a 0.0 at one of the checkpoints, but was arrested anyway because he failed a couple of the field tests. The prosecutor hounded him to plead to a lesser charge, even after the blood test came back 0.0. My collegue was adamant in his directions to his lawyer: state drops all charges or we go to trial.
    After 4 months of having the arrest hanging over his head, the prosecutor’s office just sent a fax one afternoon dropping all charges. Still cost this guy $5000 retainer to the DUI attorney.

  22. #22 |  Pablo | 

    There are plenty of problems with the machines–go to for more info and more outrages than you can shake a billy club at.

    Getting this message out–that the machines are not infallible and prosecutors and cops have incentives not to address the problems–is critical. If jurors in DUI cases don’t hear about these problems they will vote to convict the minute they see a BAC of .08 or higher.

  23. #23 |  lhfree | 

    If you’re innocent fight. There are plenty of cops out there who do this to people for personal reasons or just to pad their statistics. Many lawyers say not to consent to any kind of sobriety test even though here in FL that refusal just by itself can cost you your license. Feel sorry for those wrongly convicted or unjustly manipulated into pleading out.

  24. #24 |  GaryM | 

    On the other side of the coin, people who really were dangerously drunk may now be able to get their convictions thrown out. Every honest person loses.

  25. #25 |  Joe in Missouri | 

    Why is it that pigs never go to jail? We know they are all criminals but why never any justice for pigs? If I knowingly caused even one false conviction I would end up in jail. These mala prohibita laws it seems are just for the mundanes.

  26. #26 |  Thousands of Florida DUI Arrests May Be Tainted | The Agitator – The DUI Law Center | 

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