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Newark Legal Issues Blog

Report warns of Breathalyzer unreliability

Many people in New Jersey believe that Breathalyzers accurately reflect alcohol consumption and intoxication while driving, but human error and poor oversight means that many tests are unreliable. Judges in several states refused to accept more than 30,000 breath tests as evidence. The New York Times revealed these figures as part of an overall investigation into breath test usage nationwide. The newspaper found that incorrect adjustment and calibration could lead the devices to report results that were incorrect by as much as 40%.

As part of the investigation, the newspaper interviewed 100 experts, including scientists, law enforcement professionals, and lawyers. They uncovered several serious problems with the primary piece of evidence frequently cites in drunk driving cases. When breathalyzers are not properly maintained or calibrated, they no longer perform accurately. However, police are still arresting and prosecutors charging people based on these problematic devices. Some of the machines even malfunctioned when a person used a breath mint. Poor maintenance can also make the devices much slower, and some are old and unreliable. As a result, people with a blood alcohol concentration below the legal level may face DUI charges. Some innocent people may even plead guilty to false charges in an attempt to avoid more severe penalties.

Some police departments use unreliable methods in an attempt to repair old or malfunctioning devices. One police department reportedly drilled a hole in a device because they believed it produced readings that were too low, while others used ad-hoc chemical solutions in an attempt to clean the machines.

The penalties attached to a drunk driving conviction can be serious, including hefty fines, jail time and the loss or suspension of a driver's license. People facing these types of charges may work with a DUI defense lawyer to challenge potentially inaccurate evidence.

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