Underdahl II – End of the Source Code Issue?

I’ve mentioned here once or twice in the past, that there has been a small tempest brewing over the source code of the Intoxilyzer 5000 breath test machine. That’s the one that’s been in use all over Minnesota since the early 1990s. I’ve heard it said that the computer processor that is the guts of the gizmo has about as much computing power as one of those old pong games from the 1980s, although I doubt that’s true. It is true, however, that until recently a small minority of judges have been questioning the validity of the test results because the manufacturer of the machine has keep the source code of the software that dives the device a trade secret. No defense lawyer can get an expert opinion on the validity of the source code, because nobody can get the source code, not even the State of Minnesota.

My understanding is that earlier this year the Attorney General’s office in St. Paul filed a suit against the manufacturer demanding that they cough up the code. So far as I know, that is still pending.

Meanwhile our Court of Appeals seems to have either back tracked or flip-flopped on the issue of the Intoxilyzer’s source code, depending on how narrowly one reads the opinion. In 2007 in a civil implied consent case known as “Underdahl I,” they said that the question of the machine’s reliability is subject to challenge and that the Commissioner of Public Safety would not be granted an order which would prevent the district court from enforcing an order requiring that the Commissioner produce the source code. In May of 2008, however, after the State has continued to be unable to produce the code even after suing the manufacturer, the Court of Appeals in a criminal DWI case decision known as “Underdahl II” has said that the defendants failed to make an adequate showing that the source code is relevant to a plausible challenge to the reliability of the Intoxilyzer.

In short in Underdahl I they seemed to open the door to a source code challenge and in Underdahl II they seemed to close it. I must say that after sitting here for a while looking over these two decisions, my head is spinning a bit. I’m not sure if the dust has really settled on this issue or not, and whether there may be further appeals. I still am noticing that some police departments seem to be using a lot more blood and urine testing in an apparent move to side step any possible problem with this.

2 Replies to “Underdahl II – End of the Source Code Issue?”

  1. There's two things I'd like to add to this post:

    1. I should have mentioned that the first Underdahl case (Underdahl I), which I referred to as being a Court of Appeals case, was appealed to the Minnesota State Supreme Court and upheld.

    2. I have just heard that the second Underdahl case (Underdahl II) has been granted certiorari by the Minnesota Supreme Court. I've been trying to confirm that this is true, and so far have been unable to do so. I can't seem to find a copy of the court order granting certiorari – but that just probably means I'm using the wrong search terms or something.

    If it is true, this means that the state's highest court is accepting an appeal of the case. In other words, this issue isn't settled yet. It isn't over until we see what the Minnesota Supreme Court says. My guess is that could take a year or so.

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