The prosecution of DUI cases often depends upon the readings provided by Breathalyzers. These hand-held science labs are sophisticated tools that analyze the driver’s breath to determine if they are over the legal limit for driving under the influence. Millions of convictions are based on these devices indicating whether the reading is .08 or higher.
There is now an investigation by the New York Times that finds that Breathalyzers are far less accurate than the manufacturer’s claim of accuracy to the third decimal point. The Times isn’t the only one noticing – New Jersey and Massachusetts courts have tossed an estimated 30,000 breath tests in the last year over concerns of accuracy. Thousands more around the country have been dismissed as well.
Why is this happening?
The two most common reasons for so-called “false-positives” are:
- Human error: Law enforcement may not have been adequately trained to calibrate these sensitive devices, or they did not properly maintain them. These two factors can mean a reading that is up to 40% higher than the actual level. There were also reports of some officers altering the devices or disabling safeguards designed to ensure accuracy.
- Lax government oversight: Tech analysts working for states and other agencies have found that the technology in devices from several manufacturers is faulty. Nevertheless, administrators continue to buy and mandate the use of these devices.
Manufacturers stonewall investigations
There have been reports of manufacturers covering-up negative analysis of devices; moreover, they are also unwilling to share information about the technology. They even refuse to sell these devices to non-law enforcement entities, claiming they would not want the devices in the “wrong hands.”
False-positives affect millions
The sad truth in all this is that there are millions of innocent drivers charged with DUI, OUI or DWI. The consequences of this severe offense include losing your license, possible jail time or penalties as well as prohibitively high insurance rates. Reopening all these cases would seriously over-burden the courts, but something needs to be done — fear over letting the guilty go free is not an excuse for convicting the innocent.