By Jordan W. Charness
In an earlier column, I noted that in this day and age, law enforcement agencies have a tendency to rely on technology to help prove their cases. Television shows like CSI (and others) have reinforced the notion, at least in the public’s mind, that almost every case can be solved through a judicious use of investigation and modern technology, and all this in about an hour.
I went out with a police detective friend of mine for dinner a little while back and after an hour I asked him how many cases he’d solved between the first and second course. Although he laughed politely, I got the distinct impression that he felt that today’s people thought that what they saw on TV accurately mirrored real life. He assured me that that wasn’t the case. He also pointed out that the budget for just one CSI Miami episode would probably equal the entire budget for his department for more than six months.
Not that he denied that technology was making their investigations much easier. He was however careful to point out that just because there was a new machine on the market did not mean that they had access to it, or that it would ever be acceptable in court.
If you take a look at the Criminal Code sections on breathalysers, you will note that there are certain machines that are accepted by the law and the courts to provide proof of intoxication. To be more exact, these machines measure your blood alcohol content at a certain moment in time. Like all machines they probably have a margin of error, but the government has decided that if the machine is functioning properly, its reading will be considered to be exact.
This only applies to those specific listed machines. Any other breathalyser machine will not be considered as proper proof before the courts even if it might be a more accurate machine. Trying to make a case against a breathalyser machine is quite difficult these days, particularly since the government enacted a law that declared that contrary proof would not be accepted as a defence. Contrary proof was a concept whereby in certain cases you could have an expert show that based on the amount of alcohol you had consumed, there was no way that the machine had displayed an accurate reading. The government decided they didn’t want to buy this type of theory anymore and more or less outlawed it.
Now, if you want to challenge the results of a breathalyser machine you better have some other solid proof as to why that particular machine was broken at that time.
As far as other new technology machines are concerned, it will be up to the government and the courts to decide whether or not to accept the results of these machines as valid proof when used in a criminal trial. Just because someone invented a new machine, it does not necessarily mean that it works as advertised or that it will be accepted in a court of law.