Breathalyzer devices aren't as infallible as they may appear

Ohio Supreme Court's decision has brought into question accuracy of machines

Breathalyzer devices are often presented by government officials and law enforcement agencies as infallible machines that give scientifically accurate measurements in almost all cases. However, an Ohio Supreme Court ruling in October seriously brought into question the accuracy of these devices. The court ruled that DUI defendants can challenge a breathalyzer machine's accuracy, thus calling into question the evidence that was used to charge them in the first place.

Allows challenges to devices

Before the decision by the state's highest court late last year, Ohio law prevented DUI defendants from challenging the accuracy of a state-approved testing device, including the breathalyzer machines used by police throughout the state. One man challenged that prohibition in his fight against his own DUI charge. He argued that he should be able to access data produced by the specific machine that was used to record his blood alcohol content level.

While two lower courts rejected the man's request, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the man and decided that DUI defendants do have a right to challenge the reliability of a breathalyzer machine. One device in particular, the Intoxilyzer 8000, has been at the center of the controversy, with defense attorneys and analysts saying the machines are prone to human error and can sometimes give readings that are not humanly possible.

Authorities relent

As part of its decision, the top court ordered state officials to hand over data to defense attorneys concerning the breathalyzer machines. Initially, the state claimed that such a request could not be fulfilled because it would be logistically impossible and prohibitively expensive, claiming that to produce the data for just one defendant could cost as much as $100,000.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, however, it turns out authorities were able to hand over the data in about a month after the court's decision and all for a total upfront cost of about $144,000 and an ongoing annual cost of $124,000. Many defense attorneys had claimed that the government was reluctant to hand over the data because it could be used to show that the breathalyzer devices were far less accurate than the state had claimed. Analysts say the data could be used to challenge the convictions and charges of thousands of DUI cases in Ohio.

Defending against a DUI charge

As the above story shows, people facing a DUI charge should never assume that a conviction against them is guaranteed. Numerous issues can arise during the course of a traffic stop and DUI arrest, including police misconduct or problems with the equipment used to charge a defendant. Anybody charged with a DUI should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to discuss their options and to understand what the best approach may be in responding to these serious charges.