Thousands of broward and miami dui cases could be in jeopardy
Posted on August 24, 2009 3:00 AM EST
A Broward County judge's ruling could affect thousands of Broward and Miami DUI cases. Several months ago, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement
fired Sandra Viega. Viega was an FDLE employee who was assigned the task of conducting annual inspections on breath-testing machines in Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties. The FDLE investigation revealed that Viega was turning off the power to the breath machines if it appeared as if they were going to fail the inspection. Rather, than allow the test to show that the breath machine was not working properly, she would turn the machine off and then turn it back on which would override the system.
Every Miami criminal defense lawyer who represents clients on DUI cases, knows that the result in a DUI case will often turn on three issues; 1) whether the clients blew into the Intoxylizer and 2) what was the reading and 3) was the breath machine working properly.
At a hearing last Tuesday, a Broward criminal lawyer argued on behalf of his client and represented the interests of 32 other Broward and Miami DUI lawyers
and their 150 or so clients, to have Judge Jay Seidman throw out all breath results in Broward County with respect to all breath machines operating in Broward County during Viega's tenure with FDLE. The Broward DUI lawyer argued that Viega's actions cast a doubt on the reliability of the breath machines and accompanying results. Judge Seidman ruled that the machines used during Viega's employment with FDLE had been "fatally compromised" and that such tainted evidence should not be presented to a jury.
Judge Seidman's ruling could jeopardize between 500 and 1,000 DUI cases pending in Broward County. Although, Miami DUI lawyers filed similar motions in Miami-Dade County, none of the county court judges who heard the motion's granted the lawyers requests to exclude breath test results. The ruling in Broward County may motivate Miami criminal and DUI lawyers to once again filed motions to exclude breath test results. One should bear in mind that Viega only performed annual tests, and that local law enforcement authorities did independent monthly inspections on the breath machine to ensure that they were working properly.
A spokesman for the Broward County State Attorney's Office claimed that the machines are extremely accurate and have never proven otherwise. He stated, "The ultimate effect could be that numerous impaired drivers may not be held accountable for their actions and end up killing or hurting innocent people. His office will appeal Judge Seidman's ruling. FDLE spokeswoman, Heather Smith, said that they were confident that Viega's actions did not affect any of the breath results because the machines in Viega's coverage area were independently tested and verified to be working properly.
Broward Judge's Ruling in DUI Case Could Affect 1,000 Cases, The Miami Herald, August 23, 2009.