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Breathalyzers are important evidence but may be flawed

Breathalyzer tests have been viewed as infallible and a keystone of drunk driving prosecutions and convictions. But a recent New York Times investigation indicates that this test may be unreliable cast doubt on the validity of DUI prosecutions across the country.

Police have suspected drunk drivers blow into a scientific device that, within a minute, estimates the amount of alcohol in their bloodstream. If the BAC level is at least 0.08 percent, the driver may face conviction. Drivers in all states face criminal prosecutions for failing a Breathalyzer test.

Each state has their own standards on machines and can choose their own type of testing equipment. One maker of these devices said the machines play a role in prosecutions that was never intended.

These devices are sensitive. Many times, these were improperly calibrated, which led to results that were 40 percent too high. Police departments often rely on poor standards and have inadequate expertise. Defense attorneys have been blocked from examining these devices and their software.

In Massachusetts, police were utilizing a device that had rats nesting in it. Defense attorneys in that state also discovered that laboratories hid records concerning hundreds of failed calibrations.

Massachusetts and New Jersey invalidated over 30,000 tests in the last year because of human errors and poor oversight which placed over 42,000 convictions at risk. A Minnesota judge ruled that breathalyzers in that state appeared to be rounding up results over the legal BAC limit.

Prosecutors in one Pennsylvania county stopped using these machines after a trial judge said that it was extremely questionable that test results could stand up to serious examination. A Florida court panel described the device used in that state as a magic black box with serious and ongoing irregularities.

These alleged flaws have other far-reaching consequences besides wrongful convictions premised on questionable test results. Hundreds of defendants were never notified that other prosecutions relied on faulty tests. Many dangerous drivers may have escaped criminal charges when these results were rejected by courts.

An experienced attorney can help drivers in Georgia protect their rights and challenge evidence in these cases. They can also explore ways to dismiss or reduce charges.

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