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Irish judge dismisses drink-drive cases due to urine steam inhalation

Published 01/12/2008

An Irish judge has thrown out two separate drink-driving cases because of the danger the defendants inhaled alcohol from their own urine while in garda custody.

The rulings, by Judge James O'Connor, came as there was increasing concern at government level over the high number of non-convictions in drink-driving cases.

Last month, at Killorglin District Court in Kerry, two separate drink-driving cases were dismissed after the presiding judge ruled that the steam of the defendants' urine could have affected their alcohol readings taken during subsequent breath testing.

They were not the first cases where Judge O'Connor has agreed with defence submissions that inhalation of urine fumes could have skewed breath-test results and cases should be dismissed. The law requires that a person suspected of drink driving must be observed by a garda for 20 minutes at a garda station before their breath sample is taken.

During that 20-minute period they must not consume anything by mouth.

In both cases, the solicitor, Mr O'Connell, argued that during this 20-minute period both his clients had used a toilet to urinate. Because the two men urinated with their backs to the prosecuting garda, the 20-minute observation period had been interrupted. The solicitor argued that a new 20-minute observation period should have begun when his clients returned from the toilet and that the cases should be dismissed.

Judge O'Connor agreed. He stated that the purpose of the 20-minute observation period is to ensure nothing is taken by mouth that may affect the reading from the breath test.

"Nil by mouth is the same as nil by nose," Judge O'Connor declared. "When he is urinating, he is inhaling vapourised alcohol and there's always steam off it."

Assistant Garda Commissioner Eddie Rock, who is in charge of the Garda Traffic Corps, said yesterday that the two cases which were dismissed in Killorglin served to highlight the difficulties faced by gardai in successfully prosecuting cases of alleged drink driving.

"I don't think it is appropriate for me to say anymore about it at this stage," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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