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Times investigation uncovers flaws in breath test evidence

On Behalf of | Nov 18, 2019 | DWI

More than 1 million Americans are accused of driving drunk each year. Those charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) are usually prosecuted over the results from a battery of tests, including a breath test.

Whether it’s on the side of the road or at a police station, drivers are instructed to blow into a device to measure whether their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) exceeds the legal limit of 0.08% here in New York.

Thousands of breath test results thrown out in court

An investigation by the New York Times found many flaws in the scientific instruments used to measure a person’s BAC. In the past year, judges in New Jersey and Massachusetts have invalidated more than 30,000 breath tests, while thousands more have been tossed in other states.

Many of the companies that manufacture the devices claim their instruments are accurate to within 0.001%, but the Times discovered that, in many cases, the machines are improperly calibrated and have yielded results that were as much as 40% too high.

Top takeaways from the investigation

Over several months, Times reporters investigated breath test devices along with cases and individuals convicted of DWI. Their findings highlight three main conclusions:

  • More than 50,000 breath test results have been thrown out in several states due to improper calibration of the machines, mistakes made by officers administering the tests and errors made by labs that maintain the devices.
  • Manufacturers claim their technology is a trade secret and won’t allow defense lawyers and independent researchers from carefully studying breath test devices, while a lack of oversight keeps systemic problems from being reported.
  • Mistakes and flawed devices have an enormous impact on the criminal justice system, as thousands of cases are affected due to erroneous results.

Challenge breath test evidence

In addition to the many flaws the Times identified during its investigation, breath test devices can also report false positives over a variety of other factors, such as foreign substances, health conditions and software glitches. If you have been charged with DWI, an experienced and aggressive defense attorney here in New York will protect your rights and vigorously challenge all evidence against you, including a breath test.