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Pennsylvania state police have temporarily suspended the use of breath test machines in drunken driving cases because of a judge's concern about accuracy.
A judge in Dauphin County recently tossed out several DUI cases after learning that the manufacturer of a widely used breath analyzer - the Intoxilyzer 5000EN - had omitted a state requirement to have a liquid solution tested by independent labs.
"The judge ruled that could potentially make the samples no good," state police spokesman Adam Reed said. "The case is being appealed. It is certainly far from over. But for cautionary reasons, we have made the temporary decision that anyone we arrest for suspicion of DUI will not be given the Breathalyzer test."
Instead, he said, suspect drivers will be taken to a police facility or hospital to have blood drawn to measure the percentage of alcohol.
Reed noted that the change could result in more motorists being charged with impaired driving - from drugs, not alcohol. Breath analyzers cannot pick up drug intoxication; the blood test can.
Vincent P. DiFabio, a defense lawyer in Paoli who handles DUI cases, applauded the decision.
He said lawyers in the Philadelphia area already are planning challenges to some DUI convictions based on the Dauphin County cases. But he noted that most police departments in the suburbs already use blood tests, often at a hospital.
The Intoxilyzer 5000EN is not the blow-into-the-tube test that police sometimes use on the street, DiFabio said.
The road test is only used to help establish probable cause to take a driver into custody, he said. The Intoxilyzer 5000EN is waiting back at a station.
Blood tests are better for accuracy anyway, DiFabio said.
"It's interesting that the local departments for years have been using the more reliable method, which is blood," he said.
Christine O'Brien, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department, said city police employ both blood and breath tests.
District attorneys across the state are figuring out how to respond to the Dauphin County cases.
The Chester County District Attorney's Office said Wednesday that "all of the departments who use Breathalyzers also are trained to use blood samples. Working together, we have crafted short-term and long-term solutions to ensure the integrity of all testing processes."