Minnesota Supreme Court rules Intoxilyzer results reliable for court

The Minnesota Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the long-awaited Intoxilyzer 5000EN challenge Wednesday. The state’s highest court upheld the lower court’s ruling that the Intoxilyzer machine’s results are accurate enough to be used in Minnesota DWI cases.

The legal arguments surrounding the reliability of the breath testing machine have been going on for years. The Court ruled that the state showed “by a preponderance of the evidence” that the breath testing machine is accurate enough to be used as evidence in DWI cases.

The Supreme Court ruling involved thousands of cases that have been on hold pending the high court decision. The justices ruled that not only are the breath test results sufficiently reliable to be used, but held that the defendants involved in the Intoxilyzer source code issue could not challenge the source code issue in individual cases. That part of the Court’s decision brought a dissent from Justice Alan Page, who was joined by two others.

In dissent, Justice Page says that the majority ruling eliminating evidence of issues with the reliability of the machine in individual cases goes too far, and may stand in the way of a defendant’s ability to challenge the weight and credibility of the machine’s print out.

Justice Page says that a defendant wishing to challenge the procedures used may cross-examine the officer who conducted the test, but that cross examination may be left without teeth if the inquiry cannot delve into the reasons behind the questions.

The dissent, joined by Justices Paul H. Anderson and Helen Meyer, also raised concerns over deficient sample readings recorded by the embattled Intoxilyzer machine. Minnesota law makes it a crime to refuse an implied consent test. If the machine determines that a suspect has not supplied a sufficient volume of breath during the test, the machine registers a deficient sample. The deficient sample evidence can be used in test refusal cases.

The recent ruling may allow a credibility contest in deficient sample cases according to the dissent. Known flaws with a version of the source code software could produce false deficient sample readings.

A majority of the Court essentially held that a flawed deficient sample reading could be supported with other evidence to show reliability in a test refusal case. But, the dissent cautions that the defendant may be disadvantaged by the majority ruling, because the case would essentially be a “credibility contest” between the accused and the officer.

The dissent says that a defendant could be barred from presented evidence to the judge that the flawed machine was at fault to rebut the officer’s conclusion that the defendant allegedly did not blow hard enough or long enough into the machine.

The Intoxilyzer machine is being phased out as the out-of-date black box is being replaced by a different machine known as the DataMaster DMT-G device. Flaws have already been found in that machine, although the state asserts that the known flaws in the new machine are not reliability issues.

The recent Supreme Court ruling may have binding effect on an issue in DWI cases, but it is vitally important to note that the ruling does not mean that defenses in DWI cases do not exist. It is important to seek an experienced DWI defense attorney when facing drunk driving charges in Minnesota to help to protect rights in court.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “State Supreme Court upholds DWI test’s reliability,” Abby Simons, June 27, 2012

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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