The New York Times Investigation Shows Breath Tests “Unreliable”

Criminal Defense
The New York Times Investigation Shows Breath Tests “Unreliable”

April 28, 2020

It would not be the first time that a supposedly “scientific” system of forensics used to convict millions was later found out to be unreliable. The New York Times reported last year that breathalyzer tests have a tendency to produce “skewed results with alarming frequency.” However, the companies that produce these breathalyzer tests for law enforcement often tout their accuracy and claim that they produce valid results “to the third decimal.” 

NJ and Mass. Judges Toss 30,000 Breath Test Results

Judges in New Jersey and Massachusetts threw out over 30,000 breath test results in 2019 and this was largely related to human error. Breathalyzer tests can give skewed results if the machines are not calibrated exactly in accordance with the instruction manual. In some cases, improperly calibrated machines delivered results that were 40% higher than an accurate result would have been. In Massachusetts, results were thrown out after officers were caught using a machine that had rats nesting inside of it.

In other cases, the officers did nothing wrong, but the machines they were using were defective. Technical experts found “serious programming mistakes” in the machine’s software. In some cases, states have implemented tests that their own experts warned them about and then disregarded failsafe meant to protect the accuracy of the results.

Do Breathalyzer Tests Prove Guilt in Court?

Most laypeople are not aware of the intricacies of breathalyzer tests. DUI cases, at least those with felony charges, can go before a jury where they will hear evidence from police and prosecutors who present supposedly scientific evidence as proof of a defendant’s guilt. Even with the best scientific information available and significant evidence to call into question the veracity of the results, defendants and their attorneys face an uphill battle when proving the results should not be taken seriously.

The short answer, however, is no. Breathalyzer tests do not prove guilt scientifically and should not prove guilt in a court of law. Yet how effective they are at convicting DUI defendants depends heavily on the county in which they are prosecuted. As an example, a county judge in Pennsylvania called breath tests admitted into court “extremely questionable,” and prosecutors will no longer present breath tests as evidence in that county. But if you go two counties over, you may have a different approach by the court entirely even when the police are using the same equipment. 

An Allen County DUI Attorney can Help

Breathalyzer tests alone are not enough to prove guilt in a court of law. A skilled DUI attorney in Allen County can challenge the evidence presented and defend you from these serious charges. Call The Bellinger Law Office today for more information on how we can help. 

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