San Francisco’s public defender today filed a legal challenge to a recent DUI conviction, the first of what could be hundreds contested in the wake of allegations of potentially negligent work by police testing devices used to measure blood alcohol levels.
San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi and District Attorney George Gascon announced the allegations in a rare joint news conference earlier this month, saying they would be looking at as many as 1,000 cases dating back to 2006 that could be compromised.
According to Adachi, police failed to conduct accuracy tests on their Alco Sensor IV preliminary alcohol screening devices, which are used to measure the blood alcohol content of a suspect at the scene of a traffic stop that possibly involves driving under the influence.
The public defender’s office today filed a brief asking to withdraw a man’s no contest plea on Nov. 7 to a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence. The man, whose name was not released, was sentenced in the case to five days in jail and three years’ probation, along with other penalties.
Adachi said his office has identified about 150 other similar cases they are prioritizing, all misdemeanor convictions that occurred within the past six months. Those cases are being prioritized because the clients only have a six-month window to withdraw their plea and ask for review.
“This is the first step to providing legal relief to hundreds of people who may have been wrongly convicted,” Adachi said in a statement.
District attorney’s office spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said today that prosecutors are “in the process of reviewing and evaluating each case, and if we find there is an impact, we’ll take proper action.”
Gascon, when he discussed the allegations at the March 5 news conference with Adachi, downplayed the number of cases expected to be affected, saying the devices are part of a multi-pronged approach to prosecuting DUI cases, which also often involve field sobriety and blood tests.
The Police Department has since discontinued the use of its 20 devices and is still conducting an investigation into the allegations, police Sgt. Tad Yamaguchi said today.
Yamaguchi said an independent audit of the 20 machines found that 19 passed the auditor’s test, while the other one passed within the parameters of the manufacturer’s guidelines.
The public defender’s office is encouraging anyone who was arrested by San Francisco police, given a breath test at the scene of the arrest and subsequently convicted of DUI to call (415) 553-1081.
Dan McMenamin, Bay City News