The importance of transparency

An Arizona defendant was recently awarded the right to examine the source code of the breathalyser used to provide evidence against him. I discussed this a few months ago with some family when the same issue arose in Florida. I think it's critical that Arizona force this issue on the makers of the breathalyser and the police forces that use it, because to date the company that makes the breathalyser in question has never provided the source code and consequently racked up $1.2 million in contempt of court charges.

This is a serious problem in the court system.

The courts need to know that the evidence they collect is accurate. This is the most important thing is a fair court because inaccurate evidence leads to bad results. Guilty people can go free and innocent people can be jailed. These are not desirable consequences. In the case of a breathalyser, especially this one, which is reputed to give odd results from time to time, a person's freedom and life are at stake if the machine doesn't work properly. Thus the court needs proof of the accuracy of the breathalyser, and the only way to know that is to examine the device and its code.

Now, as I've discussed in previous posts, I hate drunk drivers and have no respect for them. I wish the courts were harder on drunk drivers, especially repeat offenders. I'm thinking first time means 5 years in jail, second time means 10 years and lifetime driving ban, third time means we amputate your legs and hands so you can never drive again. But I can't condone sentencing people when there's a chance that the breathalyser isn't working properly, especially if that is the only hard evidence for a DUI.

Every jurisdiction should require this of the breathalyser manufacturers: the design of the device must be fully documented; the source code must be available; there must be a way to determine which exact version of the source code is on which devices; and there should be QA of randomly sampled devices as selected by the state/province/etc. Manufacturers who refuse to comply will simply have their devices returned to them or the devices won't be purchased at all.

It's telling that CMI, the producer of the Intoxilyzer 8000, has never given over their source code even when their clients demanded it; they also refuse to sell the device to anyone but police forces, and the machine also failed to meet precision and accuracy testing in Tennessee, so law-enforcement agencies there are prohibited from using it. The only solution is to allow the defense attorneys to examine the devices and argue before the courts about any defects found. This is the only way we can ensure that the drunk drivers do go to jail, and those who weren't drunk don't.

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