Issues With Breathalyzers in DC DUI Cases

The accuracy of breathalyzer tests depends on the regularity and quality of the calibration of the equipment. There are have been reports all around the country about improperly calibrated machines and poorly trained technicians who are responsible for testing these devices. Therefore, if you ever been pulled over and tested with a DUI breathalyzer test in DC, it is important to know the potential issues with these machines, and what is and what is not admissible in court.

Washington D.C. experienced years of police using improperly calibrated machines that potentially resulted in wrongful convictions of individuals driving under the influence. Despite the past, there has been huge improvement resolving d-alcohol-content/dc-breath-test-processthis issue with the accuracy of the breathalyzer tests. Nonetheless, it is important for criminal defense lawyers to always be vigilant and always be on the lookout for errors in breath testing calibration, or breath testing accuracy to ensure that defendants are not being erroneously convicted based on false breathalyzer readings.

Reliability of Breath Testing

One issue that is always a problem with the efficiency of breathalyzer testing is that breathalyzer machines are manufactured by private companies, who have contracts with local police departments for the machines. Since private companies make these machines, source coding and details on a manufacturer’s process is a trade secret. As such, a person is not provided detailed information about how the breathalyzer devices are manufactured to confirm the accuracy themselves. Police agencies have exclusive rights to these apparatuses with most manufacturers of breathalyzer machines.

Similar to other technologies, there are software updates and updated versions that provide more reliable results and make the gadgets easier to use. In theory, the breathalyzer machines that are presently being used are the most precise way to test blood alcohol content.

The most accurate way to test a person’s blood alcohol content, however, is to test a blood sample. That does not require any conversion calculations and it does not rely on breath testing calibration by potentially poorly trained police technicians.

Admissibility of Portable Breathalyzers

The only breathalyzer results that are admissible in court are the results from breath tests at police stations. Portable breath tests, which are sometimes administered on the scene of an arrest, are never pertinent in court proceedings. These transportable breath tests are not calibrated to the level that would make them usable in court and do not provide results that can be relied on with high levels of scientific certainty.

The police will ask a driver to submit to a portable breath test and submit to a breath test at the police station. The purpose of the portable breath test is to determine whether a person has any alcohol in their system. If a driver submits to a portable breath test but refuses to test at the station, she or he is labeled a “refusal” because they did not submit to the only breath test that is admissible as evidence in court.

Challenging a Breathalyzer Failure

Breath testing is the easiest and most reliable way for prosecutors to obtain convictions in DUI cases. This is the reason why the DC legislators have imposed all sorts of penalties for refusing to give a breath test and why the DC city council has made it very easy for DC prosecutors to admit breath test results in court.

Nonetheless, providing a breath test and having that test be at 0.08 or higher does not mean that a person will automatically be convicted in their case, as the reliability of breathalyzers in DC can be challenged in court. There are ways that a defense lawyer can look to the calibration of the accuracy of the breath testing machine to see if that breath test can be challenged.

This was going on several years back, and it turned out that many of DC’s breathalyzer machines had been improperly calibrated to the point where sometimes they were giving results as much as 40% higher than a person’s actual blood alcohol content. The reliability of these breathalyzer machines were brought into question because of various investigations by aggressive defense attorneys who were able to find this out and force prosecutors to turn over information about it.

Since the scandal erupted where test machines in DC were deemed to be unreliable, the DC police agency has gone to great lengths to attempt to fix the problem. Since they began using breathalyzer machines again a few years back, there have not been any more calibration problems discovered throughout the system. However, defense attorneys can still request documentation for every DUI case in which a breath test was provided by their client so they can inspect those records to determine any improper calibration that could suggest inaccurate test results.

These days, the chances of that are less likely, but it is still very important to have a defense attorney who knows what to look for in challenging breath tests and knows what kind of documents are essential in inspecting the reliability of a person’s breath test result.

Deferred Sentencing

There are negotiated resolutions, such as deferred sentencing agreements, that some people at relatively low levels of blood alcohol concentration may be eligible for, even though their BAC comes back at 0.08 or higher. At a certain level, a person would no longer be eligible for those types of agreement.

For example, if a person blows 0.18 or 0.19, a very high level of blood alcohol, that person may not be eligible for deferred sentencing anyway. But many people who provide breath samples and do not appear to be heavily intoxicated could still be eligible to have their lawyer negotiate a favorable resolution in their case by challenging the reliability of DC breathalyzers in court.