Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Judges asked to reject breath tests from state's troubled toxicology lab


Two Skagit County judges began hearing testimony Monday about problems at the State Patrol toxicology lab that could affect drunken-driving cases across the state.

Defense attorneys are asking the judges to either dismiss the drunken-driving charges against more than 50 people or keep the results of the suspects' breath tests out of court.

The attorneys have begun questioning scientists at the lab, and judges around Washington are expected to rely on the testimony in deciding hundreds or thousands of similar cases in the coming months.

The District Court hearing centers on how the lab makes and tests an ethanol-water solution that's used to make sure the state's breath-test machines are working properly.

The lab's former manager, Ann Marie Gordon, is accused of repeatedly signing statements certifying that she tested the solution when, in fact, she hadn't.

Gordon, who abruptly resigned in July, will be called to testify this week and is expected to take the Fifth Amendment, invoking her right against self-incrimination. King County prosecutors are deciding whether to charge her with perjury.

Defense attorneys say there have been other problems at the lab, including a computer glitch that led to inaccurate data for the solution, which must be mixed in a precise ratio to make sure breath-test machines are giving accurate readings.

The State Patrol, however, has maintained that nothing has affected the accuracy of breath-test results.

A Skagit County deputy prosecutor and an assistant Seattle city attorney will urge the judges to allow the breath-test readings to be used against the suspects.

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