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Should I Trust The Breathalyzer

Background on breathalyzer tests

The breathalyzer is an instrument used to determine the level of blood alcohol in a person’s body. The person being tested typically blows into the device and provides a breath sample. This instrument is common in DUI investigations to obtain evidence to show that a person is intoxicated beyond the legal limit. Many incorrectly assume that the results of a breathalyzer are conclusive and cannot be called into question. Use of a breathalyzer requires specific procedures which law enforcement must follow. Failure to follow these procedures may cause the breath test results to be questioned or possibly even excluded from evidence in a DUI case.

In order for breathalyzer results to be considered as evidence in court, the prosecution must establish that the results are reliable and accurate. If the police officer who administered the test did not follow the proper procedure or cut corners, the prosecution will have difficulty presenting the breath results. Following are some common errors which arise with use of the breathalyzer.

Calibration errors

The breathalyzer must be properly calibrated and periodically tested for accuracy. Defendants in DUI cases can request copies of the calibration records to see if the device was correctly maintained. Officers are expected to keep accurate, detailed, and up-to-date records, including calibration records, but they often fail to do so. Failure to properly calibrate the breathalyzer calls the results into question because the instrument can deteriorate with time and excessive use.

Observation period

Most breathalyzer instruments require the police officer to observe the suspect for a period of time before the test is administered. Officers are supposed to watch for burping, vomiting, eating or drinking because this may cause the breathalyzer to be inaccurate due to the presence of mouth alcohol. Many officers fail to properly observe individuals, either by failing to follow the specified time period or by neglecting to actually observe the individual.

Passage of Time

Many times a breathalyzer is not administered at the same time an officer sees a person driving. Often, the breathalyzer will be completed at the police station or after significant passage of time while an officer investigates and speaks with witnesses. The passage of time makes it more difficult for the prosecution to prove what the blood alcohol level was at the time of driving. Sometimes prosecutors will be required to present expert witnesses to try to show the blood alcohol level at the time driving occurred. This can be difficult and expensive for the prosecution.

What should you do if you provided a breath sample?

Anyone who has been charged with an alcohol-related offense where a breathalyzer sample was used, should speak with an attorney experienced with DUI cases. An attorney can review your case and request the information to see if there are any issues with how the breathalyzer was administered. If an issue is identified, an attorney can assist with having the evidence excluded and possibly having the criminal charges dismissed.
Bradley Corbett

Bradley Corbett

Bradley Corbett is a criminal defense attorney in San Diego. He graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo Utah in 2004. Later he enrolled at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego where he participated in a prestigious internship program with the Los Angeles County Public Defender. Since then he has handled over 2,000 cases.

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