An article in the New York Times is telling readers what North Carolina criminal defense lawyers have known for years about breath testing for drunk driving: “These Machines Can Put You in Jail. Don't Trust Them.” Unfortunately, many drivers rely on these faulty tests and the claims of the prosecutor to plead guilty to driving while impaired (DWI), even if the driver was not actually impaired at the time.
Investigation into Breath Testing Devices
The Times investigation has looked at a number of states where judges had to throw out hundreds or thousands of DWI cases because the testing results were so unreliable. This included software errors, disabling accuracy safeguards, improper maintenance, and faked calibration records.
What Makes Breath Testing Devices Unreliable?
There are a number of problems with breath testing devices that make them unreliable. This can include operator error by the people conducting the tests, problems with the machines, and false positives that can give a misleading result.
There are policies and procedures in place that are intended to increase the accuracy of chemical test results for DWI arrests. This includes providing instruction on how individuals are to submit a sample, observing the individual for a specified amount of time, and handling samples. When these rules aren't followed, this can decrease the reliability of the tests.
Unfortunately for drivers, they are generally unaware of the proper procedures and may not know if the rules were followed. It can take an investigation, a review of video evidence, or questioning the police to figure out where the rules were broken.
False positives can increase (or decrease) the apparent amount of alcohol in a breath test sample, that would make a driver appear to have a higher (or lower) blood alcohol concentration (BAC). This can be caused by:
- Certain foods, mints, or gums,
- Cough medicine,
- Medical conditions, or
- Gastrointestinal issues.
Even the police may not know when the machines are putting out incorrect information. The police and prosecutors often rely on breath testing machines without question. However, as the news investigation points out:
“The machines are sensitive scientific instruments, and in many cases they haven't been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high.” Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise. In some cities, lab officials have used stale or home-brewed chemical solutions that warped results. In Massachusetts, officers used a machine with rats nesting inside.
Will the Police Tell You About Problems With the Test?
The police and prosecutors are out there to get convictions. The police department and district attorneys are not going to voluntarily give you information that can weaken their case, even if they know about it. Instead, the prosecutor may use these unreliable tests to get you to try and plead guilty. It takes an investigation into your DWI arrest and chemical testing procedures to identify problems with the test that your lawyer can use to challenge the DWI charges.
Before pleading guilty to any criminal charges, make sure you understand your rights. There may have been problems with your traffic stop, arrest, search, interrogation, or chemical testing that your North Carolina DWI lawyer will be able to review and identify. If your rights were violated, you should not have to pay the price with a criminal record. Talk to your DWI defense attorney as soon as possible after an arrest to make sure your rights are protected.
At Caulder & Valentine Law Firm, PLLC, we have helped drivers and their families deal with criminal driving charges to stay out of jail and keep their driver's license. Contact us today in Shelby for a consultation.