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The trouble with DUI breath test devices

In Maryland, a standard part of virtually every DUI arrest is the breath test. The arresting officer brings the driver to a police station or jail, where the driver is ordered to blow into a breath test device called the Intoximeter ECIR II, which looks a little like an old-fashioned computer with a hose attached. A special operator or chemist administers the test, which requires the suspect to blow into the hose to measure their blood-alcohol content (BAC).

Police departments and prosecutors across the country claim that devices like the Intoximeter ECIR II provide scientific, objective evidence that a person charged with drinking and driving was over the legal BAC limit of .08 percent. Nationwide, prosecutors base many, if not most, of their DUI cases on the breath test results. But are these tests really as reliable as law enforcement agencies claim?

Breath tests found to fail frequently

Not according to an investigation that found that breath test machines routinely produce inaccurate results that get people convicted for DUI who did not commit the crime. A handful of states had to question tens of thousands of drunk driving convictions. These convictions were based solely or largely on breath test results from machines that may not have been handled properly.

Human error most often to blame

The problem is that police departments often fail to calibrate or maintain their breath test machines properly. Operator error can lead to an inaccurate reading. Nevertheless, judges and juries often assume that if a prosecutor presents a breath test reading, it must be accurate. So do defendants who may be unaware of mistakes the authorities made during the test.

Stories like this show that nobody charged with DUI in Maryland should automatically assume that they have no choice but to plead guilty. Every case is different, and there may be things you can do to defend yourself against the charges that you won’t know about until you speak to a defense attorney.