Anyone arrested for a DUI knows the police may ask you to submit to a few field sobriety tasks, not tests. If you fail these tasks or the officer has other reasons to think you’re intoxicated, the officer will ask you to submit to a breath test. The test requires you to breathe into a machine that, in theory, measures the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. If the reading is 0.08 or more, then you will be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
When the DUI case goes to court, the officer will introduce the test result from the breath device into evidence. From the prosecution’s point of view, their case is straightforward if the reading is 0.08 or more. Defense lawyers, however, can challenge the results of the test based on whether the officer had grounds to stop you and whether the test was administered properly.
A November 3, 2019 investigation by the New York Times now adds another possible defense. The report showed that many breath test results are based on faulty machines. Some states and some judges have thrown out the breath results because of various defects in the machines. In cases where the only evidence of intoxication is the breath result, not using the results means that defendants should be acquitted.
The newspaper study was based on interviews with numerous scientists, lawyers, and police officers. The reporters studied court records, corporate filings, contracts for the breath machines, and other documents from throughout the country. The results showed that the breath test machines are often unreliable, to say the least.
According to the investigation:
- Massachusetts and New Jersey have dismissed over 30,000 Breathalyzer results because the machines or the way the machines were used were scientifically unreliable.
- In some cases, the results were 40 times higher than they should have been, due to improper calibration.
- Many police departments lacked the expertise to use the machines.
- Sometimes the chemical solutions used to conduct the tests were stale or unreliable. One state even used results when the machines had rats inside the machines.
- Many machines had software bugs that made the results inaccurate.
- In some states, the safeguards which were meant to help prevent errors were disabled.
In one Pennsylvania case, the results of using an Intoxilyzer breath machine were ruled invalid if the results were 0.15 or more. The judge found that the manufacturer of the device hadn’t obtained “independent laboratory certification of the simulator solution used in calibrating the device.”
The NYT investigation reported on many other defects and court cases that have resulted in dismissal of charges. In some cases, the prosecution agreed to drop the DUI charges or reduce them to a traffic offense so that that the defects in the machine wouldn’t become a precedent for other DUI cases.
The defects in the machine raise questions about:
- Whether active cases should be dismissed
- Whether anyone found guilty based on a defective machine can appeal
- Whether someone who refused to take the test and thus lost their license can appeal because the test they would have taken was inaccurate
At the Law Office of Perry A. Craft PLLC, we challenge every part of the prosecution’s case. When necessary, we work with professionals who can test and analyze breath machine devices. We have fought for defendants accused of drunk driving for decades. Whether it’s a first-time charge or a repeat DUI charge, call the Law Office of Perry A. Craft PLLC at 615-953-3808 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment. We’re ready to fight for you.
Perry A. Craft has dedicated his life to helping people in need. He has tried, settled, or resolved numerous civil and criminal cases in State and Federal courts, and has represented teachers and administrators before school boards, administrative judges, and the state Board of Education. Learn more about Attorney Craft.