Waiting to exhale: 4,000 Minnesota DWI cases on hold

  • Article by: ABBY SIMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 27, 2011 - 8:31 PM

More than 4,000 cases await the state Supreme Court's decision on whether results from a breath-testing device are considered as reliable.

More than 4,000 DWI and implied-consent cases are on hold until the Minnesota Supreme Court issues a final order on whether results from a controversial breath-testing device are deemed reliable.

The state's high court on Tuesday granted a motion by a coalition of defense attorneys who requested that each of the cases from around the state be stayed until an appeal is complete regarding the Intoxilyzer 5000EN.

In March, Scott County District Judge Jerome Abrams ruled that although the device's much-debated computer source code contains errors, the problems don't affect accuracy of the results. His 122-page order followed a five-year legal battle in state and federal courts involving lawyers for 4,000 people in 69 counties who are accused of drunken driving.

After the ruling, each case returned to its home district while defense attorneys appealed and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. Tuesday's order stops some judges and prosecutors from moving the cases through the system in the meantime.

According to the order, the 4,000 cases were originally consolidated before one judge to prevent duplicate court battles and inconsistent rulings and preserve resources. Putting all of the cases on hold serves the same purpose, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote.

Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Ryan Pacyga, who represents 160 people in the dispute, called the order a relief for attorneys and clients. Not only would cases inefficiently bounce throughout the system, it would drive up defense costs.

"This restores efficiency to one part of our government, and our government really needs efficiency right now." he said.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court haven't been scheduled.

The state is phasing out its 264 Intoxilyzer devices in favor of the Datamaster DMT breath-testing machine, which should be released within the next few months after training and testing at the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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