San Francisco, CA — The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office today filed a legal challenge in the first of hundreds of driving under the influence convictions tainted by improperly-tested field sobriety equipment.

 

The case involves a man who entered a no contest plea Nov. 7 to one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence. He was sentenced to five days in jail and three years’ probation, with the condition he pay $1,463 in fines and complete a three-month program for first offenders. The brief filed today asks to withdraw the man’s plea.

 

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said his office will review up to 1,000 cases after an examination of police records revealed a failure by officers to maintain accuracy readings of Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) devices since at least 2006.

 

Approximately 150 cases have been identified so far, Adachi said. All are misdemeanor convictions that occurred within the past six months.

 

“We have prioritized these 150 cases because some clients only have a six-month window to  withdraw their guilty pleas and ask for a review,” Adachi said.  “This is the first step to providing legal relief to hundreds of people who may have been wrongly convicted.”

 

The hand-held device, called the Alco Senor IV, is used to test the breath of drivers following traffic stop. It requires accuracy checks every 10 days. DUI expert Jim Norris, who was in charge of the San Francisco Police Department Forensic Services Division from 1995-2004, determined officers have not followed their own policies and manufacturer’s instructions for calibrating the devices for at least seven years.

 

“Some of our clients were convicted based on the blood alcohol content indicated by these faulty tests,” Adachi said. “There must be a case by case review.”

 

Norris’ examination of police procedure and records are included in the brief, which will be assigned to a judge on Wednesday. Challenges in the remaining cases are expected to be filed over the next several months.

 

Adachi urged public defender clients who were arrested by the SFPD, given a breath test at the scene of their arrest and subsequently convicted of a DUI, to call his office at 415-553-1081

 

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