Thursday, March 17, 2011

A St. Paddy's CLE on the State of the Intoxilyzer

For better or worse, St. Patrick’s Day is strongly associated with drunk driving. The beer or other beverages may or may not be green, but they do flow.

So it was a most appropriate day for a continuing legal education (CLE) event on the status of a controversial device used to measure blood-alcohol content of people suspected of driving drunk. Over 4000 Minnesota DWI cases have been put on hold in the last five years amid challenges to the device, called the Intoxilyzer 5000EN.

The two CLE presenters were from a forensics firm hired to analyze the “source code” embedded in the Intoxilyzer. They stuck closely to their public report to the court in the consolidated case challenging law enforcement’s use of the device to measure blood-alcohol content.

This reticence was understandable because of last week’s court ruling in that case. Judge Jerome Abrams’ order in Scott County District Court upheld the reliability of the Intoxilyzer as evidence. But that ruling is now on appeal.

It is unclear how this appeal will proceed. Marsh Halberg, one of the leaders of the defense attorney coalition, told the Star Tribune that they may seek special permission from the court to appeal as a group. That would certainly make the logistics earlier, compared to individual appeals in 69 different counties.

With this appeal (or appeals) in the offing, however, the CLE presenters kept questions to a minimum. In fact, the only question posed by the participants was from Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom. He asked when a newer device, called the Datamaster, is expected to replace the Intoxilyzer statewide. About six months, came the answer.

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