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Are Breathalyzer tests accurate?

The chemical breath test is a pillar of the criminal justice system's approach to enforcing laws against drunk driving. Based on the findings of so-called Breathalyzer devices, thousands of people across the country have been convicted of drunk driving offenses.

Whether it is at the police station or by the side of the road, suspected drunk drivers have to blow into a portable science lab that purportedly detects their blood alcohol concentration. If the results are 0.08 or higher, the suspected drunk driver may be convicted of the crime.

The devices are touted as being accurate to the third decimal place, but research has found them to give skewed results alarmingly frequently. In the last couple of years, judges have begun throwing out breath test results, mostly because of human errors and lax governmental oversight. New York residents might be surprised to hear that results were often 40% too high.

High results are often due to incorrect calibration. The devices are highly sensitive and are often not maintained properly. There are also often serious programming errors in the machine's software and experts have often found the safeguards to ensure accurate readings have been disabled.

Unfortunately, the breath tests are unavoidable and still highly regarded by the criminal justice system, even though many experts have discredited their findings. As a result, thousands of people end up getting wrongfully convicted and facing severe penalties that affect the rest of their lives. People facing drunk driving charges should remember that there may be certain DUI defenses, including challenging the Breathalyzer results.

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