There are two basic types of breath tests that the police use: portable breath tests, which don’t often get used in court as evidence, and Breathalyzers, which operate at the police station and usually do get used as evidence.
Either way, the goal of the device is to determine what your Blood Alcohol Concentration looks like at the time. If it’s over 0.08%, that means you broke the legal limit and are presumed impaired by that intoxication. That can lead to a DUI conviction.
The authorities use these devices every day and rely on them heavily. A judge who sees the readouts will usually assume that they are correct. Those who blow a 0.08% or above typically get convicted.
And that’s a problem, because recent studies have discovered that these breath tests are not nearly as reliable as people assume.
An alarming issue
In issuing the report, the New York Times said that the results demonstrated that breath tests “generate skewed results with alarming frequency.”
They had a few reasons for these issues. Some machines were in heavy disrepair. One had been neglected for so long that rats had made a nest inside of the machine. Others had not been calibrated properly or had not been calibrated in too long. In some cases, officers charged with doing the maintenance lacked the knowledge and expertise to do so.
The machines use software programs to run. Even when officers at the site did everything correctly, some professionals found “serious programming mistakes.” In some cases, the machines came with safeguards — which were intended to make sure the results are accurate — but officials had disabled them.
These are just a few of the reasons why the tests gave the wrong results, but they show just how widespread the issue is.
Now think about how you’d feel after a DUI arrest. Your future hangs in the balance. The police have no evidence that you suffered from impairment. They just pulled you over for a broken taillight and then gave you a breath test. Your future is now at the mercy of a machine that may be anything but accurate.
Many people who get accused of crimes insist they are innocent. In a case like this, it could absolutely be true. You know how you feel. The officer does not. They just have a number to go off of. If the machine that gave them the number is wrong, what can you do about it?
Fortunately, you do have legal defense options. Make sure you know what steps to take.