Washington State Supreme Court Upholds Breath Test Law

In 2004, Washington State legislators passed a bill making several changes to existing Washington DUI laws, one of which was intended to make it easier for prosecutors to introduce breath test evidence in court. A legal challenge to that legislation was denied by a 7-2 Washington Supreme Court decision.

Both Washington DUI defense attorneys and prosecutors are claiming victory.

The core issue is whether the state law altered or impeded the traditional role of the courts to determine admissibility of evidence.

Washington DUI Defense lawyers felt the new law forced the results of a breath test to be presented to a jury, which could prejudice them against a defendant. They cite that there may be external influences, such as diabetes, that may create a false high alcohol reading. Washington DUI Defense attorneys wanted judges to continue to have the authority to review and admit evidence before it was given to a jury, and they feel the high court ruling includes language that does just that. Prosecutors counter that the ruling still allows a jury to see breath test results once certain standards are met.

What is clear is that existing methods of securing DUI breath tests are permissible in court.

The case stems from the arrest of a teenager whose breath alcohol test registered above the state legal limit. In Washington the threshold is .02 for drivers under the age of 21. The teenager challenged the constitutionality of the law concerning breath tests, citing among other things a violation of due process and the fact that legislators included more than one subject in the bill’s title. All of his arguments were rejected by the Supreme Court.

The high court agreed to review the new breath test law after conflicting rulings had been issued by judges, and some lower courts had deemed the law unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court wrote in its majority opinion that "the Legislature has made clear its intention to make … test results fully admissible once the State has met its prima facie burden. No reason exists to not follow this intent."

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