Manufacturers say they are accurate to the third decimal point. Police and prosecutors say they provide definite proof of whether or not a driver is drunk. And the law in Washington state trusts them so much that it takes away your driver’s license if you refuse to blow into them.
They are DUI breath test machines, commonly known as breathalyzers. Most people assume that they are scientific and reliable machines that objectively measure the alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. But questions about how they are used have been raised across the country. Errors within the devices themselves, and how officers use them, could be putting people into the criminal justice system for a crime they did not commit.
The issues with breathalyzer accuracy
There are two main problems with breathalyzers that defense attorneys have identified. The first is with the software contained in the machines. Manufacturers are very secretive about the code they programmed their breath test machines with. But researchers who have had the chance to examine the code for some manufacturers have criticized what they say are errors that could cause rounded up results. The difference between blowing a .07 and a .08 could be a conviction for DUI.
Human error is the other issue. Breath test machines, both the handheld roadside testers and the larger ones kept at police stations, generally require regular calibration and maintenance. But police officers often fail to recalibrate properly between test subjects, leading to inaccurate readings. Last year, judges in New Jersey and Massachusetts were forced to throw out breathalyzer results in tens of thousands of DUI cases after defense attorneys raised these concerns.
DUI charges, breath tests, and your rights
Despite these questions about breathalyzers, as a driver, if you decline to submit to one in Washington, you will be arrested. You will also have your driver’s license suspended.
If you have been arrested for DUI in the Seattle area, your breathalyzer test results do not automatically mean you will go to jail. Talk with a defense attorney about possibly keeping your freedom and getting your license back as soon as possible.