South Carolina High Court Finds Breath Test Machine Records Inadequate

DataMasterThe South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the State Law Enforcement Division(SLED) violated the law by failing to keep adequate maintenance records on breath machines used to test for drunk driving.

The case stems from the 2002 South Carolina DUI arrest of Ronald Landon. Following an auto accident, Landon was given a breath test and subsequently arrested for DUI when the results showed a blood alcohol content of 0.14. The legal limit at the time was 0.10. South Carolina DUI defense lawyers challenged the findings, citing that despite state laws requiring the keeping of maintenance and testing records on the DataMaster machines, poor records were kept.

By not indicating how often the machines required repair, the machines gave the false impression that they were reliable. South Carolina DUI Defense attorneys questioned that reliability, citing that the equipment periodically broke down or provided false readings, making the blood alcohol content findings inaccurate. Indeed, SLED indicated that the breath test machine used in the Landon arrest had failed several times during 2002. Circuit Judge G. Thomas Cooper found the lack of maintenance records violated the law and he dismissed Landon’s blood-alcohol evidence.

The five-member South Carolina Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the record keeping system was flawed but put the burden on DUI defense attorneys to prove there were problems with specific breath test equipment in specific cases. They also thought the breath test evidence in the Landon trial should not have been suppressed and they ordered a new lower court hearing in that case.

As a consequence the ruling will probably not affect pending DUI cases in the state. Still, DUI defense attorneys cited a need for fairness when it comes to evidence presented during a trial.

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