Court battles loom over controversial breath-test devices

Controversy continues to mount over devices' susceptibility to false readings

A new civil liberties battle could be looming and it could largely be centered on the rights of drivers who fail alcohol breath tests, according to Think Progress. In recent years, a growing body of evidence has been challenging the public's faith in the breath-testing machines, which are often relied upon by police for arresting people on DWI charges. Experts say that the potential for the machines to produce false results endangers peoples' civil liberties.

Machines faulty

A number of recent cases have thrown light on the problem of faulty breath tests. Courts in Oklahoma and Ohio, for example, recently cast doubt on the convictions and charges against many DWI defendants by finding the breath-test machine used in those states, the Intoxilyzer 8000, to be unreliable. Defense attorneys and researchers have long noted that the device is capable of producing results that are described as "not humanly possible."

Furthermore, according to WTOP News, hundreds of people may have been wrongfully convicted in Washington, D.C. because of problems with the district's breath-testing devices. The device in question in the D.C. scandal was the Intoxilyzer 5000, which is the same breath-test device used by police in Texas.

Errors and punishment

The list of problems with the breath-test machines keeps growing. According to researchers, a number of factors can affect a breath-test result, including if a person smokes, has diabetes, or has been fasting. Even radio frequencies, windshield wiper fluid, and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers can deliver false results.

According to one defense attorney, about a third of DWI arrests and convictions may depend on breath-test results, making the issue of false readings a potential civil liberties issue for the thousands of people who are charged with drunk driving. Critics also note that sometimes a conviction isn't even necessary for drivers to suffer the consequences of a faulty breath test. If a college or employer learns of a DWI arrest, for example, then the person who was arrested, even if he was never convicted, could face expulsion, unemployment, or the loss of scholarships.

DUI defense

As the above story shows, breath-test machines are not always as accurate as police and prosecutors would like the public to believe. Unfortunately, many people who are charged with a DWI fail to challenge the charge because they believe a breath-test machine is largely infallible.

However, anybody who has been charged with a DWI should contact a criminal defense attorney right away to discuss their case. An experienced attorney will be able to discuss with a defendant what his or her rights are and whether a viable challenge can be raised against a DWI charge.