Giancola-Durkin, P.A.

Are breath test results reliable?

When a driver is stopped under suspicion of DWI, they will often be given a breath test to gauge their blood alcohol level. These tests are a common part of drunk driving investigations here in Minnesota and across the country. Their results can have long-lasting ramifications for drivers. Blowing over the legal limit can leave Minnesota drivers facing an automatic license suspension and serious charges. But just how accurate are these impactful tests?

A recent New York Times investigation gives an answer many may find troubling. It points to widespread accuracy and reliability issues when it comes to the use of breath tests in the U.S.

The investigation found that the testing devices used by police produce skewed results at an alarming frequency. There are a wide range of things that can throw off the accuracy of such devices, including:

  • Improper calibration
  • Poor maintenance
  • Human errors in the testing process
  • The disabling of accuracy-ensuring safeguards
  • Programming errors

Given the major role breath test results play in DWI investigations, inaccurate results can have major consequences. For one, they could lead to wrongful convictions.

Recent years have seen many instances of breath test results being thrown out over reliability concerns. Thousands of such results have been tossed out throughout the country.

One wonders what actions police departments, prosecutors, courts and lawmakers will take in upcoming years to address accuracy concerns regarding breath tests. One also wonders what impacts such actions will have on DWI cases overall.

As this investigation underscores, there are many reasons why breath test results shouldn’t just be taken at face value in DWI cases. Careful investigation as to whether any factors are present that would be likely to skew accuracy can be very important. Skilled defense attorneys can help individuals facing DWI charges based on test results look into whether there are grounds for contesting such results.

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