Tag: liquor prohibition

DWI Convictions Due to Faulty Breathalyzer Calibration

From the Washington Post:

Nearly 400 people were convicted of driving while intoxicated in the District since fall 2008 based on inaccurate results from breath test machines, and half of them went to jail, city officials said Wednesday.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said the machines were improperly adjusted by city police. The jailed defendants generally served at least five days, he said…

The District’s badly calibrated equipment would show a driver’s blood-alcohol content to be about 20 percent higher than it actually was, Nickles said. All 10 of the breath test machines used by District police were wrong, he said. The problem occurred when the officer in charge of maintaining the machines improperly set the baseline alcohol concentration levels, Nickles said.

This is the same jurisdiction where a woman who had a single glass of wine with dinner and a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of .03 was arrested for being under the influence in 2005. The national standard for a DWI arrest is .08, and anyone testing below .05 is presumed not to be intoxicated. The District of Columbia’s standard for arrest was anything above .01 if the officer deemed the driver intoxicated. Public outcry over the strict policy, particularly in a town built on tourism, prompted the D.C. Council to temporarily amend the law. The D.C. Police website still says that police can charge DUI (Driving Under the Influence, not Driving While Intoxicated) for a BAC of .07 or lower.

There is good reason to question the foundation of DWI laws and enforcement. Radley Balko makes the case that the federal push for reducing the national DWI BAC standard from .10 to .08 achieved little for public safety in Back Door to Prohibition: The New War on Social Drinking. Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) founder Candy Lightner regrets the no-tolerance direction her organization has taken: “[MADD has] become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned… I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving.”

Behind Every Law Is Force

That’s one lesson that this video of a drug raid should drive home.

Warning: Graphic Language and Material

In America today, lawmaking is discussed much too casually.  The consequences are not seriously considered.  We allow agencies to issue regulations without having a formal vote in the legislature.  “Too cumbersome.”  Compliance is automatically assumed.  Few want to consider whether the use of brute force can be justified against someone who resists, or the danger that might be created for the innocent who get swept up in investigations.   We now have thousands of rules and regulations on the books.

We suffered through the painful lessons of liquor prohibition, but have been slow to see the parallels in the drug war.  A few years ago, Cato published a report on these paramilitary raids, called Overkill. The author of that study, Radley Balko, has been vigilant about highlighting these raids and dispelling the idea that they are just a few “isolated incidents.”

More on the drug war here.