Thousands of driving under the influence (DUI) convictions across the state of Colorado are being challenged by DUI defense attorneys. The challenges come after a technician who certifies that breathalyzers that the state uses to test blood alcohol content (BAC) claim that his signature was forged on over 100 certifications.
Unfortunately, for the Court this isn’t their only issue to contend with. It was also found that a former laboratory director’s signatures were found on several certificates even after she left the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in July of 2015.
“This is the lab we’re asking to go to court and testify to the veracity of their machines,” said the president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar Darren Cantor. “It makes me question whether CDPHE is capable of doing that.”
Why the big fuss over a few forged signatures? In DUI convictions BAC is often the strongest form of evidence for a conviction, it’s what prosecutors and judges lean on, but with BAC data coming from breathalyzers with forged signatures, that evidence should be tossed out, argue lawyers. Under current state law, there is no need that there be an expert witness to testify to the machine’s accuracy, the signature on the certification is the witness.
“These are the machines prosecutors are using to convict people in court,” said Sarah Schielke of the Life and Liberty Law Office. “They say they are scientific and reliable.”
Governor John Hickenlooper has currently dismissed a proposal by the defense bar for an independent investigation to look over the certification process of every machine that is being used by the state. According to the Governor’s office, they have already launched an investigation and had concluded that no evidence of misconduct was found.
“We believe that an independent investigation is not needed at this time,” said the governor’s chief legal counsel Jacki Cooper-Melmed. “But if new facts emerge, we can always reconsider.”
Former technician Mike Barnhill was the one who blew the whistle on the forged documents after he claims his supervisor gave other employees Barnhill’s passcode and instructed them to forge his signature. Schielke states that she and other attorneys have currently found 130 forged certificates.
33 DUI cases in Weld County have already been dismissed after attorneys were able to prove that the breathalyzer used often gave higher than accurate readings. Lawyers all around the state are working for similar outcomes.
“It’s just so fundamentally unfair to everyone involved,” said Schielke. “Anyone who has done a breath test since these machines were implemented could be in jeopardy, and they should be scrutinized is what we’re finding out.”