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Faulty Breathalyzers Render DUI Cases Useless

The credibility of the famous breathalyzer device has come under new light due to the drunk driving case in Pennsylvania. This device is deployed to measure the content of alcohol in the driver’s blood and is thought to have a significant impact on cases involving impaired driving across the country. However, there are two important reasons as seen within this case that have considerably reduced the reliability of these devices for use as evidence against drunk drivers.

Refusing a Breathalyzer in Pennsylvania

Firstly, in the case of breathalyzer use in Pennsylvania, Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas ruled that the readings from a breathalyzer can be used as evidence within the state only if they fall between the range 0.05 and 0.15. The police calibrate blood alcohol content within these levels, therefore, only the evidence falling within this range will be taken into consideration. According to the decision of Judge Clark, these devices cannot provide a reading that is admissible in court from the defendant’s breath outside the range of 0.05 % to 0.15%.  The acceptable BAC limit for those operating a vehicle is .08%.

Secondly, it has been reported that the internal testing conditions of the devices go against the Pennsylvania law. This fact has been brought forward in the testimony of an employee from CMI, a company that makes breathalyzers, thus reducing the reliability of the devices as evidence in Pennsylvania DUI cases and across the country. The trial also included the testimony of Brian T. Faulkner, an engineer at CMI, according to which the initial test for device to measure the DUI suspect’s breath was conducted in house. This is a clear violation of the Pennsylvania law which requires testing to be conducted at an independent, third-party laboratory. Faulker’s testimony brought up an odd way in which CMI used a zero reading when making initial calibrations that could potentially distort the results when matching device readings to different levels of blood alcohol content. This further puts a question mark on the state use of these devices for DUI cases.

Testing for Breath Devices

On the issue, the analysis of the devices by Steven Epstein is important to consider. Epstein has compared the testing of devices by CMI to the movie The Wizard of Oz where “Toto pulls open the curtain”. In his opinion, CMI is forcing “data through the zero point on their data chart, making it forensically unreliable.” In the process, the testimony of Mr. Faulkner greatly puts the credibility of CMI into doubt. However, the concern remains that DUI defense attorneys in states without similar laws can use the inadequate independent verification of these devices to dispute the reliability of the manufacturer.

The flaws that have been pointed out in CMI testing can be brought about by defense attorney in other states within United States as well because the scientific laws are not dependent on geographic boundaries according to Epstein. The judge in Pennsylvania could have considered the results of the breathalyzer as the local range of 0.05 to 0.15 without accounting for the fact that the device had manufacturing defects. Defense attorneys states outside of Pennsylvania can make use of this argument and can get the breathalyzer checked from the law enforcement agencies.

The most practical thing to do right now is to shift back to the blood test methods for DUI suspects that are caught in the period of time waiting for an appeal to the high court against flawed devices. In the long run, law enforcement agencies around the country will have to let go of the breathalyzer and shift back to the old school methods unless all flaws from the devices are removed and the technology is updated.

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