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February 15, 2011

Acting District of Columbia Attorney General Releases Statement on Drunk-Driving Prosecutions 

Acting District of Columbia Attorney General Releases Statement on Drunk-Driving Prosecutions

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(WASHINGTON) -- Below is the statement that Acting District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin Nathan read at Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s weekly City Hall Press Briefing on February 15, 2011:

Over the past week, there have been press stories about drunk-driving prosecutions in the District of Columbia. While it is not appropriate to comment at this time on specific cases, I want to take this opportunity to address the issue.

Impaired driving is a serious criminal offense. It can result in physical harm to innocent parties, passengers and the driver, and in the worst cases can result in death. It is important that we prosecute these cases vigorously for the safety of our citizens and the protection of private property, and to deter people from drinking and driving. We will continue to do that.

At the same time, we must ensure that our prosecutions in these matters, as in all our litigation, are carried out with the utmost integrity. Any criminal prosecution must have reliable evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Just over a year ago the Metropolitan Police Department alerted the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) to a potential problem with their breath testing equipment. In response, OAG immediately stopped relying on evidence from that equipment in its prosecutions. Since taking office last month, I have carefully reviewed the issues.

Along with Chief of Police Lanier, I am determined to set a new and clear course going forward. We are committed to pursuing a drunk driving prosecution policy that has integrity and reliability.

We will only proceed with drunk driving prosecutions where we are confident in the accuracy of the information we are introducing, and where we can provide to the defendant the necessary information that should be available to him or her. Because of problems experienced to date, we will not be relying on the results of breathalyzer data in affected cases. We will proceed for now only in those drunk driving cases where, in our view, the eyewitness testimony, the urine testing, or other admissible credible evidence proves the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Additionally, because of our concerns, including whether proper protocols in urine testing were followed by a few police officers and whether certain forms were accurate, we asked for an investigation by the MPD. Pending the results of that investigation, we dismissed some cases in a way that permits us to bring them again based on reliable evidence. We expect to be able to bring most of these cases again in the near future.

In the meantime, we are working with the MPD to revamp the District’s drunk-driving program. We have been working with nationally known experts who have run court-approved programs in other States and we intend to create a program that the District can be proud of and the nation can be used as a model. Once that program has demonstrated its reliability, we will resume reliance on the breathalyzer evidence.

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