The hits just keep on coming for breathalyzer test credibility. In September, a state audit revealed that dozens of breathalyzer tests conducted by law enforcement to support driving under the influence (DUI) charges are invalid.
In North Dakota, at least 34 DUI breathalyzer tests used expired or otherwise degraded equipment, according to a state audit. The use of improper equipment invalidates the results and casts doubt on the thousands of other DUI tests performed in the state from 2018 to 2020, the auditor says.
Once a standard tool in DUI arrests nationwide, scandals are cutting down the breathalyzer's authority within the justice system.
Recent breathalyzer scandals
In North Dakota, most of the 34 faulty tests used expired gas canisters that act as a check on a machine's accuracy. While the auditor says the discovery of the 34 invalid DUI breath tests casts doubt on the thousands of breathalyzer samples taken over the two-year period, the North Dakota attorney general disagrees. Breathalyzers analyze a person's breath particles to determine blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 BAC.
The AG says his department has education and procedures in place to prevent the use of defective equipment. In his written response to the auditor's report, the AG stopped short of saying the auditor's findings are wrong.
Here in Michigan, the state's relationship with the breathalyzer is complex.
Thousands of DUI convictions were put in doubt last year by the Michigan State Police. The MSP says the company they had used to calibrate law enforcement breathalyzers produced false work orders. Without proper maintenance and calibration, breathalyzer results are not valid. Two breath test technicians were charged for allegedly falsifying the documents. So far, one of the men has pleaded guilty.
Shortly after news of MSP's investigation broke, the equipment under investigation, DataMaster breathalyzers, were put back into service. Little has been done to prevent the same thing from screwing up breathalyzer results again, according to news analysis.
Meanwhile, in counties with the highest DWI rates, some law enforcement departments are taking suspects to nearby hospitals for blood draws that will be analyzed for DUI. Analyzing urine, blood, or breath may yield BAC level results. Law enforcement officials often say blood is the most accurate.
In other recent breathalyzer scandals, a New York Times investigation found 30,000 breathalyzer results that had been thrown out in Massachusetts and New Jersey due to human errors and lax oversight.
Fighting DUI breathalyzer results in Michigan
DUI breathalyzer test results can be incorrect due to a variety of factors, including:
- Medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease
- Acid reflux
- Poor equipment maintenance
- Sample contamination
- Defective equipment
- Incorrect interpretation of data
For people facing DUI charges in Michigan, it is important that you have a criminal defense attorney who understands the shortcomings and changing public perception of breathalyzer results. Manley & Manley has a reputation for tearing down and exposing weak "evidence." We know how to use the breathalyzer's poor reputation against the prosecution.
At Manley & Manley, our criminal defense lawyers fight faulty breathalyzer results. We've been defending people charged with DUI in the Flint area for decades. Our lawyers understand the limits of this kind of testing. The data breathalyzers produce is easy to corrupt. Risks for error lie in the administering, analyzing, and reporting of the data. So much can go wrong, in general, DUI tests should not be trusted. Yet, many courts do just that.
If you are facing DUI charges, contact Manley & Manley for a free case review. A member of our legal team can help you understand your legal options.