The Trouble(s) With Breathalyzers: New Law, Old Problems

Starting in September, Texas judges will have the authority to require first-time drunk drivers in Texas to install an ignition interlock device in lieu of a license suspension, pursuant to a bill just signed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

For folks who ultimately find themselves subject to this new requirement, it is likely that it won’t be their first experience with such machines. Breathalyzers and other breath-testing devices are used by Texas law enforcement to determine the blood alcohol content (BAC) of drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated. The results of those tests are often the piece of the prosecution’s evidence in seeking a DWI conviction.

The problem is that while many machines we encounter in our daily lives are precise, reliable, and predictable, breathalyzers and interlock devices are not those kind of machines. This is why it is important that you always remember you have a right to refuse to blow when pulled over for suspicion of DWI.

The breathalyzer machines used by the police are extremely sensitive, and frequently malfunction. If you are arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI) based in whole or in part on the results of a breathalyzer test, the unreliability of those machines, the inconsistent ways they are used, and the unique physical conditions of the individuals being tested mean that there a many ways to challenge the results. An experienced Texas drunk driving lawyer will know exactly how to attack the reliability of breathalyzer test results based on any number of problems.

Three of the most common problems with the accuracy of breathalyzers, and reasons why test results may be excluded from evidence, include:

  • Improper cleaning or calibration. On average, unless the breathalyzer machine was recently cleaned and calibrated prior to your test, it can be incorrect by as much as .03 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of your breath. Additionally, the machine will give false readings if not adjusted or recalibrated to account for ambient or surrounding air temperatures. With a low BAC reading, this could mean the difference between guilt and innocence.
  • “Mouth Alcohol.” Mouth alcohol is present if someone burps or belches, and brings up some air from their stomach. Acid reflux can also wildly distort the test results. Air from the stomach has a great deal more alcohol in it than deep lung air, and can throw off the results dramatically. A number of other contaminants can add to the level of mouth alcohol, including smokeless tobacco, asthma inhalers, cough syrup and mouthwashes, or blood in the mouth from gum disease or gingivitis.
  • Breathing Patterns. Breathing patterns may affect the breath alcohol reading. Holding your breath can significantly increase the readout number. Conversely, hyperventilating or taking deep breaths can reduce your breath alcohol concentrations.

Mark Diaz – Texas DWI Defense Lawyer

When you have been charged with DWI, you need an experienced lawyer who focuses exclusively on defending criminal cases and who will aggressively protect your rights. I have witnessed firsthand how a DWI charge and conviction can negatively impact every area of a person’s life. As a lawyer, I consider it a privilege to help people during this stressful time in their lives. Call me today at (409) 515-6170 for a free consultation to discuss your case.