DUI Convictions & Breath Tests: A Love Affair Gone Wrong?

On June 10, 2010 The Washington Post reported that nearly 400 drunk-driving convictions in Washington D.C. were based on flawed breath tests.  For those unfamiliar with breath tests, “trained” officers using specialized equipment perform breath tests by having the suspect blow into the machine that supposedly determines the blood alcohol level.  Police departments across the nation rely on these devices to prove your guilt.  However, these tests, like all chemical tests, are highly susceptible to human and mechanical error.

In this investigation, police officers were charged with the task of calibrating these devices to ensure accuracy.  However, according D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, city police improperly adjusted the machines.  The machines, as calibrated, showed a driver’s blood-alcohol content to be approximately 20% higher than it actually was.  On average, the jailed suspects spent at least 5 days in jail.

This can happen to you. Years ago, Tennessee dealt with a similar problem of flawed tests. In 1990, a police officer exposed how easily these so called “high tech” devices could be manipulated. During a trial, an attorney discovered that a Davidson County police officer demonstrated how, with a mere twist of the calibration knob, a breath test result could be adjusted from .01 % (when calibrated properly) to as high as .22 %. Based on this evidence, the judge dismissed the defendant’s case.  While great pains were taken to remedy the problem, there is still a possibility that the device you are tested on will give false readings.

In Tennessee, breath tests create a rebuttable presumption that you are intoxicated.  Essentially, the burden is on you to prove that you were not intoxicated.  Without assistance from a trained professional, this can be very difficult to do.  DUI convictions can ruin your life.  Do you drive for a living?  Do you have minor children who cannot take care of themselves?  Or is driving fundamental to your life in some other way?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should understand that a DUI conviction might prevent you from fulfilling your responsibilities.  Not only will you have to incur the costs of the conviction (court costs, fees, insurance premiums), you will also have to bear the stigma of being labeled a drunk driver.

Procedures and machines differ from state to state, police department to police department.  The number of mistakes and errors that the police can make when preparing these devices is too numerous to list.  However, an absence of human error cannot render these tests reliable.  It suffices to say that, until we can ensure the machines are properly maintained and the tests are properly administered, this love affair between the police and their breath tests poisons our justice system and calls the validity of DUI convictions into question.  If you have been stopped, cited, or arrested for any DUI related offense, contact a DUI attorney.

The attorneys at the Oberman and Rice Law Firm are available to assist you 24 hours a day. For information on how to select a Tennessee DUI attorney, click here.  For information about a Tennessee DUI charge, you may contact Steve Oberman or Sara Compher-Rice at (865) 249-7200.


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