Prosecutors push to reinstate breathalyzer readings as evidence

Prosecutors push to reinstate breathalyzer readings as evidence »Play Video
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg is seen in this photo.
SEATTLE -- There's a push to get breathalyzer readings reinstated as admissible evidence in courtrooms in Washington state.

Breathalyzers haven't been allowed as evidence following a 2-year-old ruling that stemmed from major problems at the state toxicology lab.

But things have changed since. For starters, the the old lab chief is gone; the lab has a new boss. And the lab has earned international accreditation.

And King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg believes it's time to once again allow breathalyzer readings in court.

King County prosecutors handle as many as 5,000 DUI cases a year. And for the past two years, they've had to prosecute those cases without breath test results after the court ruled sloppy work at the state toxicology lab made those tests inaccurate and unreliable.

But Satterberg says those problems have since been addressed.

"We're quite proud of the work that's happened," he said. "We've fixed all of the problems that the court found, and we're looking forward to bringing that to the next motion."

But defense attorneys aren't so convinced.

Attorney Kevin Trombold claims the system is still flawed as the tests contain a margin of error that the state lab still does not report.

"Without knowing that, we don't know if we're convicting innocent people or we're letting guilty people go free," he said. "We just don't know. So they have the ability to quantify that, but they're choosing not to."

According to Trooper Ken Denton, however, the lab does report any margin of error when attorneys make a request. By law, the error rate can be no more than 5 percent.

Satterberg has identified nine cases in which he believes the breathalyzer test results should be permitted, and plans to cite those cases in his argument before the court.

"I'm convinced that the toxicology lab has taken sufficient steps to make the product - and that is the breath alcohol reading - a reliable product," he said.