The San Francisco Police Department's latest evidence-handling SNAFU -- in which numerous drunk-driving arrests and convictions came into question because SFPD was using equipment that wasn't in working order -- rightly made headlines and led foreheads to be slapped throughout the city. Especially when Public Defender Jeff Adachi talked about the six years' worth of DUI convictions cases that could be thrown out.
But does it deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the drug lab scandal, in which hundreds of drug cases were tossed out? Nah.
The gadgets, Preliminary Alcohol Screening devices, weren't properly tested or calibrated by police, who haven't yet explained why. However, the devices aren't Breathalyzer tests, and they're not the only method police have for attaining probable cause in a DUI stop.
In other words, if you were busted after a three-martini lunch or dinner anytime in the past few years, it's more than probable you're not in the clear -- especially if you acquiesced to the "real" test later.
As many as 1,000 cases handled by the Public Defender alone are potentially impacted, according to Larry Roberts, a spokesman for Public Defender Jeff Adachi.
The District Attorney has yet to release an estimate, but it handles "hundreds of [DUI] cases annually," according to spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman, who said the department still isn't sure how many times the PAS was used to gain probable cause.
Erratic driving is likely to be considered probable cause by a judge, and if a subsequent blood or PAS test at the police station confirms an elevated BAC level, it's game over.
California is also an implied consent state, which means if you denied the option of taking a PAS test, cops can bust you just the same because denial of a test is an admission of guilt.
Further, if someone facing DUI charges accepted a plea bargain in exchange for a reduced sentence, it's unlikely that an untested device alone could nullify that negotiated conviction.
But don't ask us, let's ask the experts -- when they're available. The Snitch phoned a few DUI attorneys around San Francisco, but none were able to return our calls Tuesday afternoon (with such SEO-friendly domain names as www.sanfranciscodui.com, we assume they are busy). We trust that they'll be more than happy to take your money in exchange for advice.
But as District Attorney George Gascón pointed out, "98 percent" of cases involved more than just the PAS. Boozy breath, woozy eyes, driving in the wrong lane -- these are all more than enough to prove to the state of California that you should have called a cab.
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