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Intoxilyzer results are reliable, judge rules

Though not perfect, blood-alcohol test results from a much-contested breath-testing device are highly reliable and can be used as evidence against accused drunken drivers, a Scott County judge has ruled.

The ruling implies that thousands of DWI convictions across the state should be sent back to their respective counties for prosecution. However, Judge Jerome Abrams' ruling filed Tuesday is likely to be appealed.

The breath-testing device's much-debated source code does contain errors, Abrams conceded, but they do not affect the outcome of test results, with the exception of a rare and limited situations.

The 122-page ruling follows more than four years of legal challenges by Minnesota criminal defense lawyers to 3,000 drunken-driving prosecutions in the state. The defense lawyers challenged the validity of the computer code that runs a breath test device called the Intoxilyzer 5000EN.

The state has 264 of the devices, generally used when police give the test at stations after stopping drivers on the road. A different machine is used for field tests or preliminary breath tests.

The lengthy ruling appears to break down the evidence presented over years of litigation, and also criticizes law enforcement for attempting to withhold the source code to the device. Defense attorneys eventually won the right to the code, but only after additional legal battles. They wanted the code to determine whether the machine gives accurate readings of blood-alcohol levels.

"A less defensive posture and access to the code would likely have increased confidence in results and would have reduced the need for this protracted litigation." Abrams wrote in his ruling.

Although reliable, the Intoxilyzer appears to be "severely challenged" by its limited data processing capacity, Abrams wrote.

"The instrument appears to be at the edge of its usefulness" because source code changes create additional problems, he wrote, and its code should be written for slower computers.

In the ruling, Abrams mentions that any arguments not addressed should be considered rejected.

"The court did not intend to leave any arguments for another day," the ruling read, signaling exasperation from the lengthy litigation. "Rather, this decision is at least long enough--or perhaps too long--to benefit from further detailed analysis."