D.C. Councilman Seeks Quick Fix to DUI Testing - NBC4 Washington

D.C. Councilman Seeks Quick Fix to DUI Testing



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    The D.C. attorney general's office said it's working on developing a new system for testing the blood-alcohol level of suspected drunken drivers after flawed breath-testing called into question almost 400 convictions.

    In about 50 of the cases, defendants have sought to set aside their conviction, Hildum said.

    Councilman Phil Mendelson asked prosecutors at a hearing Monday to develop a schedule for implementing a new system. Deputy Attorney General Robert Hildum couldn't say when it would be ready.

    "I don't know how we get this program back on track if we don't have an end date in mind and work back from there," Mendelson said.

    D.C. officials last year announced that they were investigating breath-testing accuracy problems. There was a calibration problem, and the breath tests weren't set up right.

    The attorney general's office said it now relies on urine testing, eyewitness accounts and other evidence to prosecute drunken driving cases. Police will call Capitol Police in when possible.

    Mendelson directed the attorney general's office to set deadlines for rolling out a new program. He said he didn't understand why police and prosecutors don't yet have a new system from measuring drivers' blood-alcohol levels.

    It's not clear what the new system would look like, but Hildum said a Florida lawyer with expertise in drunken driving prosecution has been working with the office and that any new program would require extensive training.

    Hildum sought to downplay the seriousness of the problem. He said there was no evidence that sober people have been wrongly convicted of drunken driving and said the breath tests were just one component of a prosecution.

    "The blood scores are only a piece of the evidence, not all of the evidence," he said.

    That argument troubled Mendelson, who questioned whether drivers were being presumed guilty without adequate scientific evidence.

    "Are we really doling out due process here? The point you're making is that a Breathalyzer is just a piece of the evidence, but the other pieces of evidence are not as scientifically based," Mendelson said.

    Two city police officers, who patrol bar-heavy neighborhoods and have made hundreds of arrests for drunken driving, testified that they felt handicapped in doing their jobs, and were worried that officers were reluctant to pull people over for fear the cases would not be prosecuted.

    "If we continue like this, I feel the citizens are at a great risk due to the fact that the officers are not making the arrests," Officer Ben Fetting testified at Monday's hearing.