Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

No City For Drunk-Driving (Yet): SFPD's DUI "Scandal" Isn't Automatic DUI Freedom

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2012 at 7:45 AM

click to enlarge No gadget required - SLAVIN LAW FIRM

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, 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.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"