Ramsey on DUI foulup: 'We screwed up.'

"We screwed up, plain and simple. And now we're paying for it," Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said Wednesday about the 1,147 drunken-driving cases that are in peril due to poorly calibrated Breathalyzers. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

An error in the calibration of several of the Philadelphia Police Department's Breathalyzer machines means that more than the people charged in 1,147 drunk-driving cases could ask for new trials, police said today.

Police said the improperly calibrated machines were used from September 2009 through November 2010. The District Attorney's office is in the process of notifying those charged in cases during that time.

The mistake was discovered last month by a defense attorney, who officials said brought it to the department's attention.

The glitch was due to "human error," according to Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who said the officer in charge of calibrating the machines has been moved to a new job within the department. An internal investigation is under way, he said, and the department is currently having all its machines examined.

"We screwed up, folks," Ramsey said at a news conference at police headquarters this morning. "We screwed up, plain and simple. And now we're paying for it."

Tests have shown that four of the department's eight Breathalyzer machines were not calibrated properly, Ramsey said.

District Attorney Seth Williams said most drunk-driving cases rely on more evidence than just Breathalyzer results, citing other signs of impairment like slurred speech and erratic driving. In addition, police said, blood samples are taken from drivers who are involved in accidents that result in serious injuries or death.

Contact Allison Steele at asteele@phillynews.com.