Sen. Paul Campbell: Datamaster blood-alcohol tests "easy to beat" in court

Sen. Paul Campbell in Patrol Car (SCHP)

The Datamaster.

It's the"breathalyzer"-style machine law enforcement in South Carolina often uses to determine someone's blood-alcohol level in DUI cases.

It's the same thing Sen. Paul Campbell was tested on after his arrest on DUI charges following a wreck on Interstate 26 Saturday night.

According to Highway Patrol, the Datamaster read Campbell's blood-alcohol level at .09, slightly above the legal threshold for drunken driving.

But will the findings hold up in court?

Assuming Highway Patrol is also able to prove Sen. Campbell was actually driving, which he and his wife both vehemently deny, the focus would turn to his Datamaster results.

Those findings often come under intense scrutiny in South Carolina DUI cases, because the machines require exact manual calibrations.

After his arrest, Campbell told a State Trooper South Carolina needs a better DUI system, as it's only one of two states that use the Datamaster. Other states, the senator noted, use breath analyzers that don't require calibration.

"We have the one that's probably the easiest to beat in courts, unfortunately," Campbell said.

SLED has a nearly 30-page document on it's website detailing how the Datamaster machines are certified and inspected before going into use.

These documents also say a SLED-certified specialist must inspect the machines every three months.

Local criminal defense attorney David Aylor says he's handled plenty of DUI cases, and has successfully challenged Datamaster results.

However, Aylor says often the errors that get Datamaster results tossed out are human errors, not problems with the machines.

That's because, Aylor says, there are strict policies for administering Datamaster tests that law enforcement must follow, on top of SLED's technical requirements for the machines.

"Many times, it's the policies and procedures when they are performing Datamaster test on a person," Aylor says. "That's often when the ball is dropped and something can occur, and you see errors fairly often."

Maj. Eric Watson, spokesman for the Charleston County Sheriff's Office, says the Datamasters at the Charleston County Detention Center, where Campbell was tested and jailed, are subjected to weekly maintenance and inspection by sheriff's office staff in addition to the SLED checks.

If there's a problem, Watson says, SLED is called in early.

Campbell is due back in court in Janurary.

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