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Many factors could undermine reliability of alcohol breath tests

Police officers in Massachusetts have relied on alcohol breath tests to detect alcohol consumption among drivers for years. The results of the test can justify arresting people, and the readings often provide what the courts consider factual evidence of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol. The breath test devices, however, have not produced much confidence when investigators scrutinize their accuracy. Hardware failures, out-of-date software and user errors all have the potential to skew results and create unfair convictions.

An investigative report by a major newspaper cited a lack of transparency among breath test manufacturers as a barrier to confirming their accuracy and reliability. Manufacturers guard their proprietary secrets closely and frequently withhold technical information about the devices. Even when devices might perform properly, personnel at police stations might not calibrate the machines or update software as necessary.

When programmers tried to evaluate software for one device, they encountered systemic bugs. The manufacturer attacked their results and sought the removal of the programmers' report.

Unreliable breath test readings have not been isolated incidents. Over the past year, courts have dismissed over 30,000 cases because of breath test failings.

Proof that a person was indeed driving under the influence of alcohol is essential for a drunk driving conviction. Someone arrested for DUI might ask an attorney to challenge the conclusions of law enforcement and request a case dismissal. An attorney may discover that a police officer made mistakes during the test or the device was not running on updated software. Evidence like this might unravel a prosecutor's case and protect the person from conviction. Legal representation may also limit penalties even if the evidence of intoxication appears legitimate. An attorney might raise the likelihood that a person could receive a reasonable plea deal.

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Anthony M. Salerno, P.C.
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Worcester, MA 01608

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