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SFPD Breathalyzer Mistake Puts Hundreds of DUI Convictions In Doubt 498

Posted by Soulskill
from the calibration-is-key dept.
Mr. Shotgun writes "According to CBS, 'Hundreds, or even thousands, of drunk driving convictions could be overturned because the San Francisco Police Department has not tested its breathalyzers, officials said Monday. For at least six years, the police officers in charge of testing the 20 breathalyzers used by the Police Department did not carry out any tests on the equipment. Officers instead filled the test forms with numbers that matched the control sample, said Public Defender Jeff Adachi, throwing countless DUI convictions into doubt.' Apparently this has happened before."
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SFPD Breathalyzer Mistake Puts Hundreds of DUI Convictions In Doubt

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  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by capnchicken (664317) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:28PM (#39302341)

    Especially things involving Drunk Driving which are routinely based on emotional appeals rather than real evidence and metrics.

  • Re:Good (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Karl Cocknozzle (514413) <kcocknozzle AT hotmail DOT com> on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:31PM (#39302383) Homepage

    Perhaps this will also lead to revelations about the myths of "drugged" driving as well. Reality: Just because you can test somebody's urine and find XYZ doesn't necessarily follow that they're under the influence of XYZ. Technically a blood test can reveal alcohol consumption up to 14 days later, but no serious person above the age of 5 really believes that means that you're drunk for 14 days...

  • ...this doesn't surprise me in the least. You have a few that respect and understand technology, and all it can do for the dept, but most resent it and try to deal with it and little as possible.

    This won't even change anything, really.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:33PM (#39302393)

    Will officers face sanctions for falsifying records?

    The DA said:

    Gascon said there did not appear to be any malicious intent behind the police officers’ actions. He said the coordinators were apparently just too lazy to perform the test required every 10 days.

    Can I use that excuse when I get pulled over for rolling through a stop sign? "But I was just too lazy to stop, officer! Surely you can understand that!"

  • Re:Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:33PM (#39302403)

    The judicial system worked in this case, they threw out the doubtful convictions. It's the executive branch, the one's tasks with law enforcement, that are having the doubt cast upon them.

  • by rwv (1636355) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:38PM (#39302473) Homepage Journal

    IMHO, testing ought to be done by the vendor and calibration ought to be done by cognizant, technical individuals who have a minor amount of ethics. For a test person to fill in "sample data" is evidence that (a) these things don't work, or (b) the test person was either incompetent or unethical (and neither of these is acceptable in an industry related to the security of the public like law enforcement).

  • by burningcpu (1234256) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:43PM (#39302551)
    They didn't just not do the test. They filled out the paperwork to made it appear that the instrument had been calibrated. That is fraud.
  • by evanbd (210358) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:45PM (#39302563)
    On a related note, I'm curious what part of this is a "mistake". I think a better headline would be something like "SFPD Breathalyzer Fraud Puts Hundreds of DUI Convictions In Doubt".
  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:50PM (#39302627)

    I agree. A mistake would have been "I thought you pushed the button until it beeped once. I didn't realize it needed to beep twice to be properly calibrated." Fraud is "I don't feel like putting effort into this. I'll just mark down that I did it. Who really cares?"

  • Re:Oblig: FTP (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pope (17780) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:51PM (#39302645)

    Or just not drive drunk in the first place.

  • by the_fat_kid (1094399) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:53PM (#39302677)

    No. Fire them. File charges of official misconduct. Take their pensions. Ruin their lives any way you can.
    They did not "forget" to do some thing. They deliberately did something WRONG and tried to hide it.
    The "to lazy to change his password" equation doesn't fit. More like he changed his password to "password" told every one and had someone else punch him in and out for work.
    Counsel them on how to pick up trash and buy them matching D.O.C. jumpsuits.

    Being smug just makes you less informed than some one who watches TV.

  • Re:Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:57PM (#39302735) Homepage Journal
    Oh No!!!

    I'll be officials are scared shitless they'll have to refund all that fine money they took in from these folks!!!

    Geez, this could be a significant loss of revenue!!!

    At least, that's likely the first thoughts going through their heads....

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:57PM (#39302741)

    That would depend on whether you are "on the clock" at work and what you and your employer agreed to.

    If you filled out a timesheet saying you spend that time doing something else then almost certainly yes. Which is the main difference in this actual case - the people involved documented that they did the work even though they didn't. That's where the fraud is.

    Magnified by the fact that their fraud could send innocent people to jail. Or if you are a MADD supporter that their fraud could let drunk divers off the hook (calibration errors work both ways after all).

    But they're cops, if lying on paperwork got them in trouble there wouldn't be any left.

  • by cpu6502 (1960974) on Friday March 09, 2012 @01:58PM (#39302751)

    Ya know what else doesn't get calibrated?

      The scanners run by the SA at airports. At any point of time there could be a mechanical failure and the machines start bombarding passengers with lethal (or cancer-causing) doses of X-rays and nobody would ever know, because the machines are not regularly tested (as is required in hospitals and doctors' offices). I don't think I will ever voluntarily step through one of those things.

    There's a reason the European Union banned their use. I wish OUR union would wake-up and ban them as well (but of course the CEO of the scanner company has bought the politicians that make those decisions).

  • No. They need to loose their jobs. The city needs to be sued, and everyone convicted should get recompense for the monies the spent, impacts on their jobs, and reputation.

    I don't want to pay to put someone in jail when they aren't actual a dangerous threat to society.

    This goes for many people who are in jail.

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:05PM (#39302813)

    They didn't follow procedure, that's a command issue - reprimand those in charge, correct the procedure, move forward.

    I hope nothing like that happens where you work, I don't think you could handle it.

    You accuse him of going over the edge, but your response trivializes the issue.

    A police officer's job is not the same as that of some random poster on slashdot. When not following procedure is enough to ruin an innocent person's life then a "reprimand" is a not sufficient response. If anything, that sort of lax attitude about such casual misuse of power is what leads people like the GP to use the phrase "United Police States of America."

  • by ScentCone (795499) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:07PM (#39302837)

    Holy crap I'd be pissed off if my lawyer let something like this slide.

    I think you're missing the point. The defense attorney's would have asked for proof that the devices had been calibrated. And the falsely filled-out paperwork would have been turned over, showing just that. You're saying that the defense attorney's should have asked for proof that the documentation wasn't fraudulent. Which would have been ... what? Paperwork from a non-existing third party auditor? That's why the cases are in question.

    Mind you, most cops know exactly when they're dealing with a drunk. And the drunks know when they're drunk. I would hope that this blunder only impacts very questionable/marginal cases, and not those where the driver was obviously and aggregiously under the influence.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:10PM (#39302885)

    Here is better legal advice: Don't drink and drive, asshole.

  • by jamesoutlaw (87295) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:11PM (#39302901) Homepage

    If a grown man is dangerously-close to the legal limit, he needs to hand the keys over to someone more responsible. Chances are, if he does choose to DUI, nothing will happen. However, there's always a chance he will cause an accident and seriously injure or kill someone. DUI is a serious crime and 100% preventable, all you have to do is act like a responsible adult and hand your keys to someone who is not under the influence. In that case you will not have to worry about getting that DWI on your record. The only person who is to blame for a DUI/DWI conviction is the person who gets drunk or high and gets behind the wheel of a car.

  • by gstoddart (321705) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:12PM (#39302929) Homepage

    They didn't follow procedure, that's a command issue - reprimand those in charge, correct the procedure, move forward.

    What? So if police suddenly started outright lying during criminal proceedings, you'd call that a command issue that needs a reprimand?

    I'm sorry, but falsifying data used for criminal convictions is essentially perjury. Because stuff being used in court was based on a lie.

    I can totally see why the GP is pissed ... as much as we often see examples to the contrary, if you can't trust your police to act within the bounds of the law, then you're screwed.

    Faking your test results in this case goes beyond just fraud and not following procedure.

    I hope nothing like that happens where you work, I don't think you could handle it.

    I've spent a fair few years working in regulated industries. If you side step the controls, there are potential legal consequences as you have to attest that you did all of the required steps.

    If you did that in any of those industries, your ass would be fired, and quite possibly wind up in court. Depending on what it was, you could end up in jail. Would you want your airline mechanic to just simply say "oh, sure, I checked it for cracks"?

    When the police start lying, cheating, and otherwise bending the rules, shit goes wrong really fast. It's hard not to see this as a criminal act.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DanTheStone (1212500) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:20PM (#39303053)

    if you have an alcohol level of say 0.08 or what ever the limit is where you are, you have been drinking and you are drunk period.

    .08 BAC is not drunk, regardless of your "period". It is above the legal limit for driving, but it is not drunk. How intoxicated you are does not vary by the jurisdiction's local laws.

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <{moc.liamg} {ta} {hmryobemag}> on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:22PM (#39303087) Journal

    This. I talk about theoretical terrorist attacks, malware ideas and black-hat legal/technical defense ideas all the time and I never say this, but in this case I will: DO NOT ACTUALLY DO THIS. AVOID DRUNK DRIVING CONVICTIONS BY NOT DRIVING DRUNK.

  • by sexconker (1179573) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:25PM (#39303151)

    Police officers are generally polite, respectful, and concerned for your safety.
    Police departments are generally corrupt, bureaucratic, and don't give a shit about your safety.

    For every asshole, rights-stomping cop there are several good ones. Unfortunately, they're powerless to do their sworn duty and protect you from the asshole cops and the department as a whole.

  • by sjames (1099) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:36PM (#39303317) Homepage

    Not really. The legal limit is a fraction of what it takes to actually be significantly impaired. Your BAC is over the limit long before you are drunk.

    I fully agree that it would be quite unacceptable to drive while ACTUALLY drunk.

  • by suomynonAyletamitlU (1618513) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:38PM (#39303345)

    A PITA, of course, but much better than getting a DWI on your record...which can then keep you out of jobs, kills your insurance rates...and cost $$$$.

    Jobs: If you're driving under the influence, you've showed you're either negligent, or actively willing to endanger yourself and others for a night's entertainment. I understand your argument about "a grown man, having two drinks with a meal"--but it's just a drink. Most restaurants have something else you can quench your thirst with that won't make you unable to drive. If you're so (pardon the term) drunk on the taste and sensation of a beer with your dinner that you're in danger of going over, maybe you can't be trusted to know the limit in the first place.

    Go figure that people might not consider you a pristine employee. I mean sure, you might do a very good job at whatever it is they hire you for. You might also be a surly, insensitive jackass that ends up breaking property or assaulting people, which may in turn cost them more than you'll ever be worth.

    Insurance: Drunk drivers kill a lot of people every year. In addition to it being a tragedy, for the insurance co.s, it's a business matter. How do YOU propose that they tell the difference between a person who drives drunk (or tipsy) but have been lucky so far, and people who might die, kill, create enormous medical bills, or wreck expensive property tomorrow?

    Fines: These are laws about public safety. You're complaining about paying money because you were caught endangering others. I'm not sure I trust you behind the wheel in any event, knowing that. Let alone that you consulted a lawyer about how to act if (when eventually?) you get caught doing something that could kill people, and took the advice to heart.

    It's not like there's no corruption and malevolence in the police, or that there's nowhere that police do a shitty job of keeping people safe. But if you want to make an argument like that, pick something other than harsh drunk driving laws.

  • by dougmc (70836) <> on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:39PM (#39303357) Homepage

    In the UK, refusing/failing to provide a specimen of blood or breath carries the same punishment as providing a positive sample. This gets around people like you trying to avoid responsibility for their actions.

    In the US, our Constitution explicitly says that you do not have to incriminate yourself, and providing a breathalyzer or blood sample does so.

    (Some states have gotten around this to some degree by giving you an "administrative" sanction by taking your license if you don't, which is still way better than DWI -- but they can't give you criminal charges for it.)

    You can see it as "avoiding responsibility for their actions" but others see it as exercising their legal rights. Both views are likely correct.

    If either country, if the police think you are guilty of a crime -- and you actually are or it could be easily believed that you are, and you want to minimize the penalties that could befall you, I'd suggest cooperating to the barest possible minimum that the relevant law requires unless otherwise advised by your legal counsel.

    (Now, if you don't care what happens to you, if you want to "take responsibility for your actions", then by all means -- sing like a canary. But don't be surprised if the legal system screws you over royally.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:39PM (#39303367)

    The only person who is to blame for a DUI/DWI conviction is the person who gets drunk or high and gets behind the wheel of a car.

    So you are saying .02% == drunk? Or are you saying no one is to blame in those cases, since a drunk person did not get behind the wheel; in my opinion, you and legions of MADD women are to blame for using emotionally charged tragedies to set ridiculous and arbitrary limits that would not have prevented the tragic outcome in the first place. This is what the temperance movement has become now that everybody knows you are all naive, up-tight retards.

  • by DreadPiratePizz (803402) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:42PM (#39303405)
    The thing is though, the legal limit has little relation to being impaired. The AMA said 30 years ago that a BAC of .15 would make someone impaired. At .08, the vast majority of people aren't impaired. The law used to be that you got arrested if you were driving while impaired. Now, you get arrested if you are over .08 even if you aren't impaired.
  • by dbc (135354) on Friday March 09, 2012 @02:44PM (#39303449)

    With any luck that happened in at least some of these cases and the prosecutors can hang perjury charges on the individuals responsible.

    *Could* hang perjury charges on the cops. But won't. The prosecutor/cop relationship doesn't work that way.

    Just sayin'

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:16PM (#39303935) Journal

    The problem is that blood-alcohol level isn't a good measure of actual inebriation. It's the wrong metric. I posit that a good old fashioned sobriety test probably is far far better and determining the degree of inebriation at which the operation of an automobile becomes dangerous. Of course, it is possible that that too would nail people who weren't drunk, but then again, I don't think there should be a separate criminal offense for driving drunk. If someone high, drunk or sober, cannot pass a sobriety test, they shouldn't be driving. At that point, you do the blood test to determine if there was criminal intent (ie. he had a high amount of alcohol in his system so obviously got into the car pissed) or has some nasty metabolic disorder, in which case it isn't a criminal charge, though at the very least the license should be suspended until the medical condition has been resolved.

    MADD, an organization that has been for a few decades now basically been guilting politicians into a sort of temperance through the back door scheme, has a vested interested in promoting unreasonably low limits. Of course, if you object, you're clearly some vile drunk driver who can't wait to operate a vehicle completely smashed and kill CHILDREN!!!!

    I think .08 limit is utter bullshit, and I drink maybe four or five alcoholic beverages a year (I really do not look booze at all). But what I am is a reasonable person, and a reasonable person cannot look at the BAC limits in place in most Western countries and see anything about them that has anything to do with solid scientific research. It's just a magical incantation ".08 is drunk, .08 is drunk" that is not based on evidence in the least. And remember, the guys charging you with driving drunk are the same guys who have invented other whoppers like "smoking crystal meth once makes you addicted forever!" and "once you start smoking marijuana you will inevitably and eventually do heroin and cocaine".

    It's called job security.

  • Re:Good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by rilian4 (591569) on Friday March 09, 2012 @03:36PM (#39304207) Journal
    Tolerance -- The idea of putting up with beliefs differing from one's own.
    Zero Tolerance -- What liberals have for anyone who doesn't agree with them...
  • by forkfail (228161) on Friday March 09, 2012 @05:22PM (#39305793)

    Why should anyone believe the SFPD, though, that it was that professional experience and not the fact that the cop in question thought the person being arrested was a royal jackass?

    The breathalyzer and blood tests remove the qualitative and moves things into the quantitative domain. And no matter how good the quantitative results can be, they are still inherently weaker than qualitative.

    And now that the department has been shown to engage in systematic deception, it weakens the quantitative aspects substantially.

Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it.