Factors That Can Cause False Readings with a Breathalyzer Test

by gclatworthy on July 19, 2012

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The Breathalyzer machine was invented by Dr. Robert Borkenstein in 1954. The science behind the machine is relatively simple in theory, but more complicated in execution. It was created to estimate the BAC, or blood alcohol content, in the body. When alcohol is ingested, the body does not digest it immediately. It moves through the body remaining chemically unchanged. Some of the alcohol will make its way into the lungs and out through the breath. The breathalyzer analyzes the breath sample to determine the estimated BAC.

After someone submits a breath sample into the breathalyzer, that air must be held while a chemical separates the alcohol from the breath. There is a lot of moving parts and chemicals used in a breathalyzer which can lead to errors. The human body is complicated. Also, typically humans live with changing physical circumstances every day, and there are no two people who are alike. How can a machine take into account all the different circumstances with each individual? What specific situations might affect the results, and how can an attorney prove that the machine might be wrong?

Factors to Consider

A breathalyzer machine is built to estimate, not measure BAC. A blood test is the only way to accurately measure a person’s BAC. All that is necessary to lead to arrest is an estimated BAC of .08 in most states. If the breathalyzer’s estimate is off by just a little, it can mean the difference between getting arrested for DUI, or even being charged with an extreme DUI.

When a person works around chemicals, these chemicals can absorb into the body and create a higher BAC estimate. If they rinse with an alcohol-based mouthwash or suffer from diabetes, that can affect the test because diabetics and even some low-carbohydrate dieters could have increased acetone levels in their breath. Some prescription medications and foods might affect the results. Since the breathalyzer is an electronic device, it is also possible that interference from nearby electronic signals could also affect the readings.

Creating Doubt

If you are arrested for DUI in California for example, the job of a DUI lawyer is never to prove your innocence. That responsibility always lies with the prosecutor. Your attorney must interject reasonable doubt. They can explain the circumstances that might have skewed the breathalyzer results.

The breathalyzer is an imperfect machine that must be constantly tested and maintained and the prosecutor must be able to prove that it was maintained and tested appropriately. A competent criminal attorney therefore can introduce serious doubt about the readings of such an imperfect machine.

An attorney with experience in DUI prosecution will have a full understanding of the Breathalyzer machine and its failings. A DUI conviction is serious, costly, and it can greatly affect your life. When you have so much riding on a hundredth of a point determined by a fallible machine, you need an attorney on your side.

About the author
Written by Georgina Clatworthy, former editor of 1Lawyersource.com and legal writer. She is currently working as a contributory writer for the attorneys at The Law Offices of Johnson and Johnson, who can provide expert legal assistance to those facing DUI charges.

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  • http://wardblawg.com Gavin Ward

    Important comment from Nicholas Birch on Twitter: EVIDENTIAL Breathalysers generally quite reliable provided proper procedure used. Important to scrutinise MGDDA for slipups

    Follow @NicholasJBirch’s expert updates here: http://twitter.com/nicholasjbirch

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