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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Public Defender Says Drunk Drivers Didn't Get Fair Sobriety Tests

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 2:07 PM

click to enlarge Let's talk about what's really impaired ... the sobriety tests
  • Let's talk about what's really impaired ... the sobriety tests

Not many people would come to the defense of a convicted drunk driver. However, San Francisco's inebriated drivers might find themselves off the hook for their crime -- and if so, they have Public Defender Jeff Adachi to thank.

Adachi today officially filed a legal challenge that accuses the San Francisco Police Department of improperly administering field sobriety tests, which then tainted DUI convictions for hundreds  -- if not thousands -- of convicted drivers.

Adachi -- who is best known for his crusade against San Francisco police -- said his office will begin reviewing up to 1,000 cases after an examination of police records revealed that police failed to maintain accuracy readings of the Preliminary Alcohol Screening devices since at least 2006.

Adachi's legal challenge today deals with one questionable case, and there are hundreds more to follow. "We have prioritized these 150 cases because some clients only have a six-month window to withdraw their guilty pleas and ask for a review," Adachi said. "This is the first step to providing legal relief to hundreds of people who may have been wrongly convicted."

The first case officially being challenged involves a man who entered a plea of no contest on Nov. 7 to one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence. He was sentenced to five days in jail and three years probation, with the condition he pay a $1,463 fine. Today's motion asks the court to withdraw the man's plea, according to the Public Defender's Office.

The handheld device used for sobriety tests requires accuracy checks every 10 days. DUI expert Jim Norris, who was in charge of the SFPD forensics division for a decade determined that officers were not following these rules for at least seven years, Adachi said.

"Some of our clients were convicted based on blood alcohol content indicated by these faulty tests," Adachi said. "There must be a case-by-case review."

More challenges are expected to be filed over the next month, and Adachi urged public defender clients who have been arrested by San Francisco police, given a breath test at the scene of their arrest, and subsequently convicted of a DUI, to call his office at 553-1081.

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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