Judge overturns breath-test ruling


Herald Writer

Scores of alleged drunken drivers don’t deserve to dodge justice because of a dispute over changes made to breath-test machines, a Snohomish County judge ruled Wednesday.

Superior Court Judge Linda Krese overturned an April 17 decision by South District Judge Timothy Ryan that tossed out breath-test evidence in one man’s case and potentially affected as many as 175 others.

It was an important victory, deputy prosecutor Charles Blackman said, adding "while this was only one case, we had a bunch of cases this was affecting."

Ryan had suppressed breath-test evidence in a drunken-driving case involving a 63-year-old Bellevue man who was arrested in August 1999 after officers allegedly spotted him driving erratically along I-405 and Highway 527 in south Snohomish County.

Lawyers challenged the legality of the way state officials went about ensuring that breath-test machines would accurately determine the amount of alcohol in someone’s blood after new, tougher drunken-driving limits went into effect in early 1999.

Ryan’s ruling called into question not so much what was done to prepare the machines for testing, but whether what happened strictly complied with state administrative code and case law. Similar rulings were reached by other judges in the county and elsewhere around the state.

Prosecutors responded by challenging Ryan’s ruling in court. Krese’s decision will set the rules for all municipal courts in the county.

In her ruling, the judge said the disputed changes to the machines "in no way affected the manner in which the machine performed. What was done was akin to changing the date or time, not the function of the machine."

The legal questions raised by the case were only present in drunken driving arrests involving people who had breath tests between late April and November in 1999.

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