For a breathalyzer to be used by law enforcement, the device must be on a list of approved devices collected by the Department of Transportation. The current list authorizes approximately 40 different devices assembled by less than 20 different manufacturers located across the U.S. and worldwide.
How Have Breathalyzers Improved Over the Years?
The original breathalyzer was a much simpler device and was nowhere near as transportable as its more modern descendants. The first breathalyzer, developed in the 1930s, required the subject to blow a sample breath into a balloon, capturing the sample for later laboratory testing. For exact results, breathalyzers needed a sample of the air from deep in your lungs because this is where the miscellaneous gasses in your body exchange between the lungs and the bloodstream.
Since the goal is to measure the subject’s blood alcohol content (BAC), to do this without actually measuring the blood itself, the machine needs a deep breath; shallow breaths will not give accurate results. This is why you are directed to blow into the device for a certain length of time and strength to ensure the device captures the sample from deep in your lungs.
What Other Devices, if Any, Are Available to Test Alcohol?
The primary alternatives to BAT devices are field sobriety tests and urine or blood samples taken at the police station. The field sobriety tests are difficult because they can be subjective and rely heavily on the arresting officer’s statement.
The urine or blood sample tests are problematic because they are not taken at the crime scene, and if postponed too long, the amount could dissipate, and the subject’s BAC could go down.
Are Complaints About Faulty Breathalyzer Results Common?
There will always be criticisms about the precision of these devices. Such challenges are a predictable and easy accusation to make when fighting a DUI/DWI conviction. The technology has advanced immensely, but it is not flawless, and the device can still be fooled, as discussed below.
What Are Some Common Sources of Error in Breathalyzer Testing?
Calibration mistakes are a significant source of inaccurate readings. BAT devices are very sensitive to surrounding conditions (i.e., temperature) and often need specific recalibration for climate changes. Nevertheless, such recalibrations can go wrong. For instance, in June 2010, approximately 400 drunk driving convictions were in question in Washington D.C. when it came to light that city police improperly adjusted the instruments used.
Breathalyzers can also give false positives if the alcohol levels of the mouth are tested instead of the blood or there is a reaction to other innocuous chemicals in the subject’s blood.
In addition, since most tests are not issued directly after the subject is stopped by police, the prosecution will often employ experts to examine the BAC level at the time of the test and reason backward in time (i.e., make an educated guess) to evaluate what the subject’s BAC was at the time of the traffic stop.
What Legal Issues Can I Face for Drunk Driving?
Drunk driving is a grave offense that can lead to some significant consequences. Depending on the laws of your state, a person is generally thought to be legally intoxicated if they have a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or 0.10%.
Suppose a person chooses to operate a motor vehicle after drinking alcohol or taking drugs that impair their senses. In that case, it can result in having to face many legal ramifications, such as getting ticketed, criminally fined, arrested, and charged for driving while intoxicated (DWI), or the more commonly known term, driving under the influence (DUI).
While an individual who has been charged with drunk driving usually only obtains a misdemeanor for their first offense, they can still be charged with a felony if they have injured another individual or caused property damage. A person may also face felony charges if it was not their first drunk driving violation.
Further, though most states will charge a drunk driver with a DUI, every state has its own set of criteria for what is deemed a drunk driving offense and different varieties of the potential charges that may apply.
Finally, it is essential to note that drunk driving is more than just a mere traffic citation; it is deemed a criminal offense. If you are convicted of a drunk driving offense, it will appear on your criminal record.
What Tests Are Used to Determine Intoxication?
If a police officer suspects that a person is driving drunk, they will have probable cause to pull that individual over. This can happen under many circumstances, including when they see that a person is speeding or swerving all over the road and if they observe alcohol or drug paraphernalia (e.g., certain types of pipes) in the vehicle.
After a person gets pulled over, a police officer will likely ask that they step out of the vehicle and invite them to take one of the following tests to determine whether they are sober:
- Breathalyzer: This is a handheld device that measures the concentration of alcohol in a person’s system by having them blow into it. It can be issued at either the scene where the automobile was pulled over or at a police station.
- Blood or Urine Testing: This test is more complex as it requires a medical professional to do the testing and produce lab results. Further, the police will need to obtain a warrant first. Therefore, this test is not generally administered at the scene.
- Field Sobriety Tests: These are commonly given at the scene and include a variety of different activities that are designed to test a person’s balance and agility, such as touching a finger to your nose, reciting the alphabet, or standing on one foot while counting.
If the individual fails any of these tests, the officer will have grounds to ticket and arrest them for drunk driving. Furthermore, if a person refuses to perform any of the tests administered at the scene, a police officer can still arrest them if they suspect that the person has been driving drunk.
Lastly, things like the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath or from open containers in the automobile (even if they are empty) can prove that a police officer may rely on them to arrest them for drunk driving.
What Happens After a Drunk Driving Arrest?
After a person gets arrested for drunk driving, they will be allocated a court date. If they are charged with a DWI or DUI, they will have to decide whether they will fight the arrest, take a plea deal, or proceed to trial.
Also, there might be some defenses available to use against the charges. These may include the following:
- The individual being arrested was not the driver of the car;
- There was no probable cause to pull them over;
- The test itself or the results were inconsistent or incorrect; or
- There was inadequate evidence to make an arrest.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Attorney?
If you have been stopped for a DUI or DWI and had a breathalyzer test issued, you should speak with a DUI/DWI lawyer to see whether there are any possible reasons why the results aren’t correct.