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Investigation finds breath tests are unreliable

Judges in New Jersey and Massachusetts have tossed out over 30,000 alcohol breath tests due to human error and other issues in the last year, according to a new report from the New York Times. The report's findings cast doubt on the trustworthiness of breath tests being used by law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

During an in-depth investigation into the accuracy of breath tests, reporters from the Times spoke with over 100 police officers, attorneys, scientists and executives. In addition, they analyzed thousands of court records, emails, contracts and business documents relating to the reliability of breath tests. They discovered that multiple things can skew results from the devices, including improperly mixed chemicals, programming errors and even certain foods. For example, they found that breath mints can throw off breath test results. They also found that calibration mistakes can cause results to appear 40% higher than they actually are.

Inaccurate breath test results can lead to the prosecution of innocent drivers, and they can also cause individuals who are guilty of drunk driving to be inadvertently set free. Because of this, many criminal justice advocates say that defendants, attorneys and judges should not trust results from breath test devices until their accuracy is improved.

Defendants facing drunk driving or DUI charges might feel they have no choice but to plead guilty. However, as the recent investigation illustrates, tests that measure a defendant's blood alcohol content level might be inaccurate. A criminal defense attorney may be able to successfully challenge the results of any breath or field sobriety tests that a defendant was subjected to. This might cause the evidence to be deemed inadmissible and the case to be thrown out of court. Even if the evidence stands, the attorney might negotiate a plea deal that reduces the charges.

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