When police arrest someone on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, they will transport the person to the police station to perform a breathalyzer test. Under most circumstances, persons who have a blood alcohol content of 0.08 or higher are considered to be unlawfully driving under the influence of alcohol.
Although breathalyzer machines are scientifically tested to ensure that they provide accurate results, there are numerous factors that can affect the results of a breathalyzer test, potentially producing an incorrect result for a particular person.
What Is a Breathalyzer?
A breathalyzer is a tabletop machine that uses a person’s breath to calculate the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream. Under Pennsylvania’s implied consent law, all drivers are expected to submit to a breathalyzer test after they are arrested on suspicion of DUI. Refusal to submit to a breathalyzer can carry consequences such as revocation of driving privileges.
Breathalyzers often must be calibrated and require that a certain testing procedure be followed to ensure that the machine produces an accurate test result.
What Can Affect a Breathalyzer Test Result?
Due to the sensitive nature of the testing equipment, there may be factors that can impact the accuracy and reliability of a breathalyzer test result, including:
- Alcohol residue in the mouth, which may come from alcoholic beverages, mouthwashes, cough syrups, or breath sprays. Proper breathalyzer testing procedure requires police officers to ensure that a suspect has not had any alcohol or alcohol-containing substance in their mouth for at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to conducting the breathalyzer test.
- Medical conditions, such as diabetes or GERD. Diabetes can result in abnormally high acetone levels in a person’s breath, which cannot be distinguished from ethyl alcohol. GERD can cause stomach contents, which may include alcohol, to be regurgitated back up the esophagus and into the mouth. There are also other rare medical conditions that can cause a person’s GI tract to ferment alcohol, which may show up on a breathalyzer.
- Environmental exposure to alcohols such as acetone that can be found in many painting products could throw off your breathalyzer results.
- Contaminated test equipment, including residual alcohol in the mouthpiece from a prior test subject.
What Happens If There Are Questions about the Reliability of a Breathalyzer Test Result?
When factors call into question the reliability of a breathalyzer test result, a DUI defendant or their attorney may make a motion to exclude the test results from evidence in the case. In many cases, it may be necessary to bring in expert witnesses to testify how factors, such as environmental factors, medical conditions, or errors in the testing procedure may have impacted the test result. Even if a breathalyzer test result is not excluded from evidence, presenting a persuasive case to challenge the reliability of the results may give rise to reasonable doubt that would preclude a conviction for DUI.
Of course, the state may have other evidence in a DUI case, such as the arresting officer’s testimony, to support a conviction, so it is critical that you have experienced legal representation to help when there may be questions about the reliability of your breathalyzer test result.
Contact an Experienced Erie DWI Defense Attorney About Your Drunk Driving Charges in Pennsylvania
Have you been charged with a DWI or DUI offense in Pennsylvania? A drunk driving conviction could leave you with a permanent record, and it could result in your driver’s license being suspended for a very long time. That is why it is imperative that you speak with a qualified DWI defense lawyer about your case. The lawyers at Purchase, George & Murphey, P.C. represent clients charged with drunk driving, breath test refusal, and related offenses in Millcreek, Harbor Creek, Fairview, Meadville, and throughout Pennsylvania. Call (814) 833-7100 or fill out our confidential online contact form to schedule a consultation about your case. We have an office located at 2525 W. 26th St., Erie, P.A. 16506, in addition to offices located in Meadville and North East.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.