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Are Breathalyzers guilty of producing inaccurate results?

On Behalf of | Nov 26, 2019 | OVI Defense |

For decades, the little black box called the Breathalyzer has been an arbiter of justice and the finder of guilt or innocence in DWI cases nationwide.

But a recent New York Times study has revealed that breath-test machines are badly flawed.

“The machines are sensitive scientific instruments, and in many cases, they haven’t been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high,” the Times article said. “Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise.”

For determining guilt or innocence, it seems a flip of a coin could be almost as accurate as a breath test.

Breathalyzer was born in Indiana

The original Breathalyzer – a machine that has spawned many similar devices – was invented by an Indiana highway patrol officer.

Breath-test machines were put into wide use nationwide in the 1980s, in the wake of the crackdown on drunk driving. They became a fundamental tool for law enforcement and prosecutors.

If the Breathalyzer says you’re above a 0.08 blood alcohol level, say goodbye to your driving privileges. Say hello to legal bills and increased insurance rates. A DWI, when all is said and done, can cost thousands of dollars. On top of that, there’s the inconvenience of needing to rely on friends and family for transportation.

Thousands of cases tossed out

Breath-test machines, however, are facing scrutiny.

Defense attorneys throughout the nation are beginning to question breath-test results. State and local judges have tossed out cases, due to malfunctioning machines.

In New Jersey and Massachusetts, for example, courts in the past year threw out more than 40,000 DWI cases due to human error and poor maintenance of the breath-test machines. Courts in multiple states, including Colorado, have found that law enforcement agencies have knowingly deployed machines that they knew were unreliable.

In Washington, D.C., it was discovered that buggy machines helped convict hundreds of people over a period of years.

Breathalyzers are still used

But these events haven’t led to nationwide changes. As the Times article explains, some states have outlawed the use of certain breath machines, due to unreliable results. Other states, meanwhile, continue to use them.

There’s a lot of money at stake. Manufacturers sell their machines only to law enforcement, and contracts can be worth millions of dollars. The makers of breath-test machines will do whatever they can to continue to sell their machines.

Takeaways for all motorists

What should we make of all this? Here are points to remember:

  • Even though they’re flawed, breath-test machines continue to be widely used in Ohio and throughout the country.
  • Anyone who’s pulled over and suspected of drunk driving could fail a breath test and could face unfair punishment.
  • Drunk-driving convictions being tossed out means dangerous drivers can continue driving.

Bottom line: if you’ve been given a breath test, consult an experienced DWI lawyer who understands these issues.

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