Police pull over a DUI suspect and administer a breathalyzer test. The driver blows into the machine, and the results show a .1% BAC level—just above the legal limit of .08%. Many people assume that when this situation occurs it is an open and shut case leading to a conviction against the driver. This isn’t necessarily true.
Breathalyzer tests can be inaccurate for all sorts of reasons, and if you ever fail a breathalyzer test, you should explain the facts of your case to an attorney to find out what your possible defenses are. In many cases, claiming that a breathalyzer test has rendered a false positive is a legitimate defense. Here are some of the more common reasons that breathalyzer machines render false-positives:
Breathalyzer machines must be properly maintained and calibrated in order to give accurate results. If police aren’t taking care of the equipment, and if they haven’t been testing it to ensure that it gives accurate results, why should a court trust its evidence? The answer is – it shouldn’t.
Sometimes, even with proper maintenance, certain machines are just not reliable. For instance, in a recent Ohio case the judge determined that the “Intoxilyzer 8000” was fundamentally unreliable, and that prosecutors couldn’t use breathalyzer results from these machines to prove DUI occurred.
Electromagnetic interference can impair breathalyzer machine functioning. Older breathalyzer machines are particularly susceptible to this. One frequent problem is radio waves from a police cruiser or signals from a cell phone interfering with the breathalyzer machine as the police attempt to use it. A federal government study from 1983 noted that a majority of breathalyzer machines then in use were susceptible to errors caused by electromagnetic interference.
If a driver has been exposed to certain substances, such as paint thinner or gasoline, this could also cause a false positive result for a breathalyzer test. Additionally, anything a person eats or drinks prior to taking the test could have an impact. For instance, mouthwash, cold or pain medications, or certain types of candy can potentially inflate test results.
The Driver has Certain Health Issues
The health issue DUI defense attorneys run into the most is acid reflux. People suffering from acid reflux sometimes show false-positives when given a breathalyzer test. Breathalyzer machines are designed to measure alcohol content that is emitted from the lungs—but sufferers of acid reflux also emit alcohol content from their stomachs directly. As a result, breathalyzer test results are often much higher than they should be for those suffering from acid reflux.
There is some evidence that diabetes can also greatly inflate test results. According to statistics gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, diabetics are more likely to blow false-positives into breathalyzer machines. Digestive diseases or diseases that affect metabolism can pose another potential problem. Amazingly, there is even a condition known as auto-brewery syndrome which causes a person’s stomach to ferment alcohol on its own. If you’ve failed a breathalyzer test, make sure your attorney is aware of any health issues you have.
Contact an Experienced Attorney if You’ve Been Charged with DUI
If you’ve been charged with DUI, it is imperative that you discuss your case with an experienced DUI defense attorney. The consequences of conviction are too severe not to. A conviction can bring fines and jail time, court costs, and a license suspension or revocation. There can also be lost employment opportunities, social stigma, and loss of public benefits. An experienced attorney can investigate the facts of your case, help you understand your potential defenses, and give you the best possible chance at defending yourself against a DUI conviction.