District dropping drunk-driving cases because of breath-test problems

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 12:18 AM

The District is continuing to drop some drunken-driving cases while certification problems remain with equipment used to test suspects' breath, a year after such devices came under investigation, according to interviews with officials Tuesday.

Irvin Nathan, who became attorney general under the new administration of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, said the city will not use data from D.C. police breath-testing devices until they are certified.

It was not clear when that might be, or why certification had not been obtained.

Kristopher Baumann, the head of the D.C. police union, said he understood that about eight cases were dropped Tuesday and about 60 in the past three or four weeks. It was not immediately known whether any could be revived.

However, Nathan said the District "will continue to enforce drunk-driving laws." Officers' observations and urine tests will be used as evidence, he said. Urine tests "are and have been used" all along, Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said by e-mail.

Last February, then-Attorney General Peter Nickles said the city's equipment could give blood-alcohol content readings that were 20 percent too high. It was reported then that those devices were replaced, and that stricter testing standards were being devised.

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