Law enforcement cases involving DUI have depended upon the accuracy of Breathalyzers for decades. These portable science labs analyze a user’s breath to determine if they are legally impaired. This has led to millions of DUI convictions using a Breathalyzer that registers .08 or higher.
The New York Times, however, recently investigated the usage of these devices and found them to be much less reliable than the manufacturer’s claim to being accurate to the third decimal place. Some in the judicial system has caught on as well – 30,000 breath tests in New Jersey and Massachusetts in the past year were invalidated by judges.
Two factors driving this
Reasons for throwing out this evidence is attributed to:
- Human error: Those operating the devices are improperly trained to calibrate them, or these sensitive instruments were not properly maintained. This can lead to a reading that is up to 40% over the actual level. Moreover, some disabled safeguards that were meant to ensure accuracy.
- Lax government oversight: Government labs may not be maintained, with rats found living in a machine providing lab readings in Massachusetts. There is also evidence of lab technicians using old chemicals or brewing their own solutions for the machines. Technology people have found software flaws in Breathalyzers as well. Nevertheless, against experts’ concerns, states and municipalities continue to authorize the purchase of these flawed devices and their application.
Manufacturers squashing all information
The Times report went on the add that manufacturers have been exceedingly secretive about their devices. There are reports of makers covering up any negative findings in relation to the devices. Moreover, they were unwilling to share information on how the devices work and only will sell devices to law enforcement, rather than letting them fall into the “wrong” hands.
The findings will affect thousands
DUI charges have a wide-ranging and life-changing impact on those convicted: losing one’s license is a major inconvenience, it will raise insurance costs, and affect potential job prospects because it sits on the driver’s record. Massachusetts, Washington and some other states are now looking to reopen cases where questionable convictions were based solely on these faulty devices.
Reopening cases could clog up the courts for years, but what option is there? Driver’s are innocent until proven guilty, but the proof based on these devices is compromised. Some complain that the guilty could go free to harm others, but that is not an argument for convicting innocent drivers.