A recently filed lawsuit claims that the Washington State Patrol official responsible for ensuring the consistency and reliability of breath-test machines violated the rights of drunk driving suspects who later had their licenses revoked.
I discussed this in an earlier blog where a panel of District Court judges had already found breath machine results inadmissible in all Kitsap County cases. The four District Court judges tossed the breath machine results in all drunken-driving cases before the court. The judges also found that Fiona Couper, the WA State Patrol Forensics Lab, “submitted false or misleading testimony by declaration in tens of thousands of cases.” About 81,000 people were tested over the past decade.
The lawsuit was filed by David LaCross on behalf of plaintiff Nicholas Kori Solis, 29, of Bremerton. The respondent is Ms. Couper. The lawsuit claims that Ms. Couper filed false statements vouching for the legality of the machines and “deprived the plaintiff of due process.”
The lawsuit specifically criticizes Washington’s procedures for revoking drunk driving suspects’ licenses. This process is administrative, not criminal, and the breath test results are admitted to prove the driver was impaired to allow the state to revoke their driver’s license. The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of money for damages, among other remedies.
Mr. Solis was arrested March 19 by a State Patrol trooper who observed him driving 88 mph on Highway 3. In addition to signs of impairment, the trooper tested Solis using the Dräger breath test machine. The machine found Solis had a blood alcohol content reading of about .10. Solis was charged with DUI in Kitsap County District Court. He pleaded not guilty and entered a diversion agreement with prosecutors.
The legal issue is whether Washington’s BAC machine accurately processed the results of breath tests. The state limit for blood alcohol content is .08. As the machines perform the required calculations, however, they produce results that contain more than two digits.
State law says the numbers are to be “rounded” but instead the software had been “truncating” them, or cutting off the numbers at a certain decimal point, a fact the judges found Couper knew or should have known.
The practical results of truncation vs. rounding can actually benefit defendants – as rounding a number could result in it increasing and showing a person was perhaps more intoxicated, something that cannot happen when the numbers are simply cut off.