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Elephant in the room: breathalyzers’ departures from accuracy

We’ve got a problem across the United States concerning accuracy surrounding many arrests tied to drunk driving charges, and it’s not exactly a secret.

Defense lawyers know it beyond the slightest doubt. Prosecutors know it. Judges are routinely confronted with the problem. Police officers across the entire chain of command – from administrators and chiefs to the troopers who effect roadside stops – know well that evidence routinely emerges to undercut the validity of their conclusions in DUI cases.

The culprit is a single and relatively small device that is often the determining factor leading to a DUI arrest and conviction in Colorado and nationally.

Namely, that is the breathalyzer employed by police officers many thousands of times across the country each day. Those mobile gadgets provide an assessment – a read-out number – of blood alcohol inside an individual’s body.

Most specifically, as noted in a recent Forbes article, a breathalyzer “calculates the level of alcohol dissolved in oxygen in breath.” The so-called ‘blood alcohol content” is the central factor in a DUI case. Blow a 0.08 or higher, and you’re considered legally drunk in every American state (even lower in Utah).

Although that might strike many people as a reasonably fair process/assessment in a DUI stop, there’s this to consider: Breathalyzer use and readouts come with a persistent track record of proven problems.

The National Motorists Association states that the devices churn out wrong numbers about half the time. A recent national study featuring interviews with scores of scientists, lawyers and police officers cites evidence from cases where BAC estimates were 40% too high. Authorities in multiple states – including Colorado – have tossed legions of cases where prosecutors rely upon BAC estimates.

The bottom line with breathalyzers is that, notwithstanding their centrality in the blood-alcohol testing universe, base flaws in their calibration and use have been repeatedly revealed.

Questions or concerns regarding any aspect of a DUI matter can be directed to an established criminal defense legal team.

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