Supreme Court puts 4,000 Minn. DWI cases on hold

More than 4,000 blood alcohol results could be thrown out in court.
More than 4,000 blood alcohol results could be thrown out in court.

Questions over a breathalyzer machine's accuracy have put more than 4,000 DWI cases across the state in limbo.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court granted defense attorneys' motion to temporarily halt 4,000-plus cases where defendants failed a breath test on the Intoxilyzer 5000, a device that's currently  being phased-out across the state.

Hundreds of defense lawyers banded together to challenge the machine's results in court, claiming that the Intoxilyzer 5000 is outdated. Ryan Pacyga is defending about 160 clients who've failed the machine's blood-alcohol test, and says it's inaccurate and poorly programmed.

"It's akin to an Atari processor," Pacyga says. "The technology has come a long way since this thing was introduced."

The defense lawyers joined together because individual clients couldn't afford the $70,000 to hire the forensic technology experts needed to challenge the machine.

Pacyga claims that among other issues, blowing too hard can give an inaccurate reading on the Intoxilyzer 5000.

If the Supreme Court sides with the state, the results will be admissible and all 4,000-plus cases would resume as usual.

If the judges find for the defense attorneys and throws out the results, those 4,000 defendants would have charges that they were above the legal limit dropped, but would still face the charge of driving while intoxicated.

Pacyga says this is fairer, anyway, describing the 0.08 blood-alcohol limit as "arbitrary."

"Some people are shitfaced at point-oh-eight," he says. "Other people drive just as well as they do normally."

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