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How common are false positives during breath tests?

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2024 | DWI

Certain types of evidence are subjective. An officer’s interpretation of someone’s tone during a conversation may not reflect the truth of the scenario, for example. Their assumptions about why someone performed poorly during field sobriety tests could relate more to their personal experience than the medical reality of the driver performing the tests. People accused of crimes can sometimes raise questions about how officers interpreted a situation as part of a defense strategy.

Other evidence is more authoritative in part because it is less subjective. Chemical evidence can be much more conclusive during criminal proceedings than an officer recounting their interaction with the driver. Therefore, performing chemical breath tests has become a standard part of New York drunk driving traffic stops.

Once police officers have probable cause to suspect chemical impairment, they can request that someone perform a breath test to establish their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Some people worry about performing those tests because they could produce inaccurate results. How common are false positives on breath breath?

False positives are a frequent issue

Although breath testing technology has become more sensitive and accurate in recent years, there are still many limits to breath testing. Many breath testing systems look for chemicals in a certain family of compounds, meaning that substances other than alcohol can trigger a positive result.

Acetone on the breath could also lead to positive test results. Those experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis due to unmanaged blood sugar could fail a breath test despite having had nothing to drink, for example. Certain hygiene products and medications could also trigger false positive results. In other words, even when the testing unit functions perfectly, it could return false positive readings.

Inaccurate results can also occur because of issues with the testing unit. Chemical breath tests are complex and therefore subject to failure if police departments do not control all known variables. Properly maintaining the devices and keeping them calibrated is of the utmost importance if people hope to obtain accurate test results.

False positives or elevated test readings could lead to someone’s arrest and prosecution when they did not actually break New York state law. Realizing that the test results could have been wrong may inspire some people to fight back again pending impaired driving charges in New York.