Breathalyzer issues affect accusations of alcohol-related offense

There are millions of drivers on New York roadways every day. Some may end up being charged with an alcohol-related offense. Such a charge could have serious implications on a person's life, including expulsion from school or the loss of job, regardless of whether the charge results in a conviction. However, some people are starting to question the accuracy and reliability of an important tool used to prosecute those accused of driving under the influence.

Typically, drunk driving cases are decided in two different ways -- an officer's perception of a person's impairment and a reading of the person's blood alcohol content. As a result, some people who do not have a reading indicating they are above the legal limit may still be convicted. An important tool in the determination of a person's blood alcohol content is the Breathalyzer.

However, many people are starting to question the results of Breathalyzers. The Office of the District Attorney General in Washington, D.C., for example, believes that almost 400 people may have been wrongly convicted in 2010; only 50 of these people challenged their convictions. Some claim that there are issues that could result in a false positive. For example, some people with low blood sugar, such as a diabetic, tend to have more acetone in their breath, potentially resulting in a false positive. The increased amounts of acetone could also cause a person to act disoriented.

Other factors have shown to increase the possibility of a false positive. One study shows that the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer increased the chances of a higher reading. Radio frequency, including those used by police officers, could also raise a reading. In addition to these factors, some argue that certain models are simply not reliable -- one model is even known to show readings that are medically impossible to achieve.

While driving under the influence of alcohol certainly has its risks, some estimate that approximately one in three charged with an alcohol-related offense are accused based upon a false positive from a breath test. While it is a police officer's job to keep the streets safe, an unwarranted arrest can have serious consequences on a person's life. However, people in New York who have an experienced attorney on their side can fight to ensure that their rights are upheld.

Source:, "The Next Civil Liberties Fight Could Be Over Breathalyzers", Lauren C. Williams, Nov. 18, 2014