Skip to Content

Defendants Can’t Challenge Reliability of Breathalyzers


I don’t even know what to say about this latest ruling from my state’s Supreme Court — except the obvious:  our constitutional rights, at least in drunk driving cases, are quickly disappearing.

State Supreme Court Upholds Ruling in DUI Case

San Diego, CA.  Nov. 25 — The California Supreme Court has upheld a San Diego County man’s drunken-driving conviction, ruling that DUI suspects may not call expert witnesses to challenge the overall reliability of breath-alcohol tests.

The opinion, authored by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, says lawmakers have determined Breathlyzer-type tests to be fundamentally reliable as evidence in court, and that they shouldn’t be questioned in court. However, expert defense witnesses are permitted to question the calibration and use of specific machines used in a particular case.

The defendant, Terry Vangelder, was arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer for driving 125 mph on state Route 163 in 2007. He told officers he had two to three glasses of wine with dinner, according to the court document.  A handheld device calibrated his blood- alcohol content to be 0.095 percent and 0.086 percent. At the police station, an Intoximeter test showed readings of 0.08 — the minimum amount to be considered legally drunk in California.

At trial, the judge struck the testimony of a doctor who said that such instruments are scientifically flawed in accurately testing alcohol amounts in the body.  
The jury found Vangelder guilty of DUI based on the 0.08 result.

The state 4th District Court of Appeal reversed that verdict and ordered a new trial, but the San Diego City Attorney’s Office appealed to the higher court.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith called the opinion, filed Thursday, another “victory in the war” against drunken driving…

Charles Sevilla, Vangelder’s attorney, said Friday the panel’s opinion was disappointing.

“This seems to be an extraordinary ruling, and we may have to test that in federal courts,” Sevilla said.

Imagine that.  I’ve repeatedly posted about the inaccuracy and unreliability of these breath machines.  See How Breathalyzers Work (and Why They Don’t), Breath Alcohol Testing: “State of the Art”?, Report: Breathalyzers Outdated, Unstable, Unreliable and “Close Enough for Government Work”.  Yet, these machines are the most critical evidence in a DUI case — to the point where it is becoming a “trial by machine“.  And now our state’s Supreme Court has simply said that you can’t question their reliability.  Whatever happened to the constitutional right of confrontation?  To the right to present evidence?  To scientific facts??

Another “victory in the war on drunk driving”?  Or yet another example of what I’ve termed The DUI Exception to the Constitution?  

The post Defendants Can’t Challenge Reliability of Breathalyzers appeared first on Law Offices of Taylor and Taylor - DUI Central.

Share To: