SFPD laziness could overturn DUI cases

The San Francisco Police Department neglected to properly test alcohol screening devices used in DUI cases since at least 2006, Public Defender Jeff Adachi and District Attorney George Gascón announced yesterday at a joint press conference.

SFPD has suspended the use of devices as public defender and district attorney’s offices investigate.

The public defender’s office handles hundreds of DUI cases a year, though Gascón stressed in Monday’s press conference that 98 percent of DUI cases involve additional blood or breath tests after a preliminary alcohol screening device is used.

Adachi said manufacturers require recalibrating the Preliminary Alcohol Screening devices every 10 days or 150 uses. The public defender’s office was tipped to the issue when attorneys noticed that police records showed the exact same results in every test of every screening device.

Even though PAS devices are only part of the evidence used in DUI convictions, Adachi said up to 1,000 cases may be at risk of being overturned.

Gascón also announced that his office would dismiss current cases where PAS evidence played a critical role.

The PAS device scandal is the latest embarrassment for the SFPD. Last year over 100 cases were dismissed after videos allegedly depicted officers illegally entering residences, falsifying police reports and stealing suspects’ valuables came under scrutiny.

In 2010, crime lab technician Deborah Madden was alleged to be pilfering drug evidence . Several hundred drug cases were dismissed as a result.

Ironically, PAS devices aren’t completely necessary in DUI stops. The department only has a limited number of the devices and individual officers can choose whether or not to use them.