Put Prosecution Experience On Your Side

How accurate are the breath analyzers used in DUI stops?

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2024 | DUI and Traffic

All Idaho drivers may have heard of breathalyzers — the chemical breath test devices police use when they pull over a driver on suspicion of drunk driving. However, there are a lot of common misconceptions about these devices, and these misperceptions can have a profound impact on the rights of a person who is accused of DUI.

The most important of these misperceptions has to do with the reliability and accuracy of these devices.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the issues involved, and how they can affect your defense if you are facing DUI charges.

What are these devices for?

First, let’s start with the name. These devices are commonly known as breathalyzers, but in fact, Breathalyzer is a brand name and Idaho police use different brands of these devices. What all these devices have in common is that they are designed to measure the amount of ethanol in a person’s breath. Ethanol is a chemical present in the type of alcohol that we drink.

The reason police use these devices is to collect evidence that you are too intoxicated to legally drive. Generally, this means you have a blood alcohol concentration, or BAC, of 0.08%.

Do these devices measure BAC?

If you read the previous few sentences closely, you might have noticed that a couple things didn’t quite match up: The chemical breath test devices measure ethanol in a person’s breath, but the real test of intoxication is the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood.

In other words, handheld chemical breath analyzers don’t actually measure BAC. To get an accurate rating of a driver’s BAC, the police need a different kind of test — ideally, a blood test.

Police can conduct a breath test at a roadside traffic stop, along with asking a driver to walk in a straight line and all the other tasks they might ask in a roadside sobriety test, but they cannot draw a person’s blood. Instead, police must drive the suspect to a facility where a licensed professional draws the driver’s blood for a test.

Before the police can drive a person to a different location and have their blood drawn, they generally need a warrant. To get a warrant, they need to show evidence to a court. A chemical breath test can serve as this evidence. So, the breath test at the roadside is largely a way for the police to get a warrant.

However, in some situations, the police aren’t able to get the blood test in a timely manner, and so when the driver stands trial, the breath test result is the best evidence available to the prosecution.

How strong is this evidence?

Breath test results can be unreliable. The devices must be calibrated accurately, and the police officers involved must be trained in their proper use.

But even if the device is working as it should and the conducting officer is well trained, other factors can lead to inaccurate results.

Remember when we noted that ethanol is present in the alcohol we drink? Well, ethanol is a naturally-occurring chemical, and it may be present in other things. In some cases, these devices show inaccurate results just because a person has eaten a short time before blowing into it. In other cases, people with diabetes have shown high ethanol ratings even if they have consumed little or no alcohol beforehand.

Defending against DUI charges

All the above may seem very technical, but by now, you may have started to see why it can be important to your DUI defense. If the best evidence the prosecution has against you is a breath test result, and you can show that this evidence is unreliable, you can strike a powerful blow to the case against you.