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Why Breathalyzer tests are not all they're cracked up to be

If Maryland police ever stop you because they believe you are driving while under the influence of alcohol, they'll likely ask you to submit to sobriety testing. The Breathalyzer, or other forms of the breath test, is common for use by law enforcement officers to determine if a person has alcohol in his or her system. While these tests are generally highly accurate, the truth is they are anything but.

According to reports, breath test results are often wrong. An investigation conducted by the New York Times found that most test results are skewed. Machine or human error is often to blame.

Machine/human error

Breath tests, in any of their forms, can produce fairly accurate results in some cases, but mechanical and human errors are common and can cause false positives. Machine errors can occur if:

  • The devices do not receive proper maintenance
  • If the software is out of date
  • They do not receive calibration as necessary
  • If they do not receive regular battery replacement

Human error refers to administrator error. Officers need proper training to use these devices. Some still don't, despite their training, which can result in higher-than-normal BAC readouts. According to the NYT investigation, breath test devices that do not receive properly maintenance or use can yield results that are up to 40% too high. This, of course, has resulted in numerous people under arrest or charged for driving under the influence when in all reality they should not have been.

Judges throwing out test results

Due to growing concerns over the accuracy of breath test results, judges all across the country are rejecting this information as evidence. Many are even overturning convictions achieved because of high BAC readouts. However, this has not stopped law enforcement officers from using them.

If police happen to pull you over and ask you to submit to a Breathalyzer test, know that this test result is not the end-all-be-all. It does not mean you will end up with a DUI on your record. There is sufficient evidence that these machines are faulty, and it will not be the only evidence the court looks at when reviewing your case -- if it's considered at all. If it is, though, with assistance, you may be able to successfully challenge the test results.

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