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Breathalyzers Make Mistakes

For the past several years, Florida drivers have been arrested and convicted of DUIs and many lost their driver’s licenses based on potentially inaccurate breathalyzer readings.

Earlier this year, defense attorneys in Florida began discovering strange breathalyzer statistics: they noticed breath volumes that are humanly impossible and extreme numbers of people blowing three times the legal limit.

Investigations revealed that the breath flow sensors on the Intoxilyzer 8000, which are supposed to measure the air going into the machine, were malfunctioning.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 is a breathalyzer device that officially went into service in Florida in 2006.  Since then, regular testing of the machines conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had been finding that the machines were operating properly.  However, the malfunctioning breath flow sensors were not being checked because inspectors were not required to do so.  As a result, the malfunctions went undetected for a significant period of time.

Inspectors have recently found that 40% of the 231 machines used were incorrectly measuring the individual’s flow of breath into the machines.

Defense attorneys and experts argue that the error was corrupting breathalyzer readings.  However, the FDLE counters that breath volume doesn’t impact the test’s reliability.  The judiciary is apparently siding with the defense.  A Sarasota County judge recently ruled that the tests from the machines in question are unreliable and has refused to allow prosecutors to introduce the results into evidence.  The judge also instructed district attorneys to notify defendants in pending cases of the issue.

The FDLE started quietly fixing the machines in January, but they were not informing defendants of the problem.  Laura Barfield, the FDLE employee mainly responsible for approving and maintaining alcohol testing equipment, says she has lacked the staffing to check all the machines.  However, she’s hoping to get a $20,000 grant to get software that would automatically check for breath volume during testing.

If the tests used in prior cases are found to have been inaccurate, there will be a load of falsely convicted defendants asking the court for relief.

This is based on information from an article written by Tom Workman, a local lawyer, professor, and breathalyzer expert.