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Faulty breathalyzers spur review of hundreds of DUI cases

Prosecutors in Ventura County will review nearly 300 drunk-driving cases because of problems with a type of breathalyzer used by agencies throughout the county since January.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we've suspended doing anything with cases involving these machines," Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Frawley said last week.

Frawley said an unknown number of pending cases would be dropped. In 157 of the cases that will be reviewed, defendants have pleaded guilty or no contest.

"It stands to reason," Frawley said, "that there will be some cases where this was the primary piece of evidence."

But in many arrests, the hand-held Alco-Sensor V was only a "preliminary screening device," with other tests used to derive blood-alcohol readings, he said.

Defense attorney Darryl Genis said the problem with the devices, acquired with the aid of a state grant, was more systemic than acknowledged by county officials, who said erratic readings had been spotted in only a handful of machines.

"They spent a half-million on a bunch of junk, basically," said Genis, whose entire practice is DUI defense.

The St. Louis-based manufacturer, Intoximeters Inc., was closed Friday and executives could not be reached for comment.

But in a letter to the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Chief Executive M. Rankine Forrester said preliminary testing suggested a problem in the device's mouthpiece, which, he said, will be redesigned and subjected to rigorous testing.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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