In Missouri, the magic number is “0.08.” If you are pulled over for driving while intoxicated, the police can request a sample of your blood, breath, or urine, and then test it. If you hit that magic number, it does two things. First, your driver’s license is getting suspended. Second, the magic number makes a prima facie case that you committed a crime
The test results are only admissible, however, if the test was conducted properly. Missouri law and regulation establishes the testing protocol, both for the test and for making sure the machines are properly calibrated. And that protocol has to be followed exactly. The standard, in fact, is “absolute and literal compliance” with the regulations.
For the past year, most if not all Breathalyzers in Missouri have not been calibrated in absolute and literal compliance with the relevant regulations. The regulations said that the calibration procedures needed to use three known standards, 0.04, 0.08, and 0.10. Instead, only one standard was being used.
So the machines were not properly calibrated. So the test results were not admissible. “Absolute and literal compliance” is the rule, remember. That means people kept their driver’s licenses. That makes the criminal cases harder to prove.
The Department of Revenue, the people who decide whether to suspend your license, the people who make the rules, are not happy with that. They disagree with that interpretation of the rules. Even though the rules said three standards, 0.04, 0.08, and 0.10, had to be used, the DOR says no. The DOR says that “and,” really that was an “or.” So they changed the rules, which now read “or.” But that is not enough. The DOR is arguing that the “and” really meant “or.”
So it is time to trot out one of the most clichéd literary quotes known to man. But, of course, it is clichéd because it is appropriate to use whenever somebody is trying to redefine a word for their own purposes.
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master-that’s all.”