The unreliability factor of breath test devices in Minnesota

The unreliability factor of breath test devices in Minnesota

Although Minnesota law enforcement uses breath test devices to determine whether a driver is intoxicated, these devices may not always give accurate results.

When Minnesota law enforcement officers pull people over on suspicion of drunk driving, they may use breath test devices as a way to measure how much alcohol drivers have in their systems. In Minnesota, the results obtained from a hand-held breath test device may be used as evidence in court, according to Minnesota Statutes. Yet, many studies show that breath test analyzers are inherently unreliable. A simple miscalculation may lead to a wrongful DUI conviction.

What are breath test devices?

Breath test analyzers are hand-held devices that evaluate a driver's blood alcohol content level. The driver is asked to blow a breath sample into a tube connecting to the device. The device then determines how much ethyl alcohol is in the breath sample and converts the number into a blood alcohol content level. There are several factors that can affect a breath test reading, and in some cases, alter the reading to such an extent that a person is erroneous found guilty of DUI.

Factors affecting breath tests

According to the University of New York at Potsdam, breath test devices pick up more than just the ethyl alcohol group when evaluating a person's breath sample. The devices also pick up methyl groups, which can be found in a variety of substances other than alcohol. In fact, up to 80 percent of the compounds found in human breath contain methyl structures. The following can also affect a breath test device reading:

  • Eating certain bread products or using mouthwash prior to testing
  • Breathing paint, gasoline, paint thinner or cleaning fluid fumes
  • Traces of vomit or blood in the subject's mouth
  • Electrical interference from police radios and cellphones
  • Tobacco smoke and dirt in the air
  • The surrounding humidity and air temperatures

Breath test devices must be calibrated correctly to ensure they are working properly. These analyzers can also give false results when they are misused by a law enforcement officer.

Inaccurate results

The University of New York at Potsdam reported that breath test results can vary by more than 15 percent when compared to actual blood test results. Studies also show that 23 percent of all drivers that use a breath test device will have results measuring higher than their actual blood alcohol content level. This is further proof that measuring a person's BAC level through a breath sample rather than an actual blood test can have inaccuracies and may lead to unnecessary penalties.

How an attorney can help

People who are charged with DUI in Minnesota face severe consequences, including fines and jail time. With a DUI on their record, many people will have difficulties finding employment or obtaining a professional license. A DUI defense attorney may help you explore your options and build a case to help you clear your record.

Keywords: DUI, drunk driving, breath test