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Pennsylvania Courts challenge the reliability of certain breathalyzers in DUI cases

Posted on December 31, 2014 at 12:35 AM

Pennsylvania Courts challenge the reliability (and admissibility) of certain breathalyzers in Pennsylvania DUI cases, in particular the Intoxilyzer 5000

1. The December 31, 2012 Court of Common Pleas Opinion Ruling Breathalyzer Evidence Unreliable

In December 2012, a Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas challenged the reliability (and admissibility) of certain breathalyzers in Pennsylvania DUI cases, in particular the Intoxilyzer 5000. Relying on expert testimony, the Court in Commonwealth v. Schildt determined that breathalyzer machines are not accurate in measuring blood alcohol levels higher than .15 percent. Essentially, the machines are calibrated for a limited operational field range of .05 percent to .15 percent. Therefore, any breath test machine reading either above or below that range (.05 percent-.15 percent) cannot, as a matter of science and law, satisfy the Commonwealth's burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

2.The September 5, 2013 Superior Court Decision Reversing and Remanding The CCP Opinion (But Still Allowing Preclusion of Breathalyzer Evidence)

On September 5, 2013, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania (in a non-precedential decision) reversed and remanded that decision; however, the Superior Court did not necessarily dispute the lower court's reliability findings. Instead, the Superior Court found that the lower Court's decision to quash the criminal trial was premature (and procedurally improper) at that particular stage since the lower Court erroneously held the Commonwealth to its burden of proof at trial in granting the pre-trial motion to quash the Complaint rather than the prima facie burden necessary to survive a habeas motion. The Superior Court acknowledged that the lower Court could indeed preclude the breathalyzer evidence as unreliable but that fact is irrelevant to the question of whether the evidence established a prima facie case. Essentially, the lower Court is still free to preclude the breathalyzer evidence as unreliable.


 

Categories: Criminal Law & Expungements

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