The cornerstone of a DUI prosecution often depends on the readings provided by Breathalyzers and administered by law enforcement. These mini science labs are sophisticated devices that are supposed to measure the level of impairment by alcohol to the third decimal point. This would be more than accurate enough for officers to determine if the driver was over the legal limit of .08. So it has been the basis of millions of DUI convictions for several decades.
The New York Times, however, recently published an investigation into the reliability of Breathalyzers. It found that they are far less accurate than manufacturers claim. Moreover, the newspaper isn’t the only one questioning the credibility of these devices – New Jersey and Massachusetts courts have thrown out more than 30,000 cases in the last year. Judges in other states are dismissing thousands more as well.
2 reasons why this happens
The two most common reasons for these false-positives are:
- Human error: Law enforcement personnel are often not adequately trained to calibrate the devices, or they do not store these sensitive devices properly. These factors can lead to a reading that is up to 40% higher than the actual blood alcohol level. There were also reports of officers altering devices to address perceived design flaws, so they “worked better.”
- Lax oversight: Tech analysts working with states and municipalities have long sounded the alarm about the reliability of this technology from several different manufacturers. Administrators nevertheless continue to buy these machines and mandate their use.
The article went on to point out that several manufacturers are well aware of the technological shortcomings of the device but are not sharing this information. Moreover, they even refuse to sell these devices to non-law enforcement agencies who could find a solution. They argue that they are protecting company secrets and that they do not wish for the machines to fall into the wrong hands.
Millions of false-positives
The fact is that millions of drivers have had their lives thrown upside-down by charges of a DUI. The consequences include loss of license, possible jail time and increased insurance premiums. It can also affect potential job opportunities and impact the lives of loved ones. Some are concerned about reopening cases because it could mean letting off guilty drivers, but this is no excuse for false-convictions of innocent people.