Breathalyzers Favored by Law Enforcement Despite Potential for False Readouts

Houston's local District Attorney recently announced a nearly half-million dollar grant to Houston-area law enforcement agencies to buy new Intoxilyzer alcohol breath test machines. While hand-held breathalyzers can be had for as little as $50, the new Intoxilyzer units are supposedly much more sophisticated and, according to the DA, would allow more suspected drivers to be tested quickly.

Problems With the Intoxilyzer 8000

However, the problem lies with the machines themselves. The Intoxilyzer 8000, the flagship product of Kentucky-based CMI, has been found to be unreliable after DUI attorneys discovered that the devices were reporting data that was simply impossible.

Here's what happened: diligent lawyers carefully examined the Intoxilyzer's printout, and discovered that the machines had measured breath samples of 10 or more liters. Yet even the fittest athletes cannot blow more than about 5 liters of breath from their lungs-it's simply not possible for a human to store that much air. This meant either the machines had not been properly calibrated by local officials or their sensors just didn't work properly.

Either way, it called into question the arrests and convictions of hundreds of accused drunk drivers. Judges in some of the affected cases wisely granted attorney requests to have their experts examine the machines and ordered CMI to release their source code so the lawyers could fairly determine whether their clients had been charged on false evidence. But CMI refused, saying that the operation of their machine was a trade secret.

As a result, hundreds of DUI cases were delayed, officers were pulled off the street to testify, and local newspapers even ran editorials calling for the machines to be scrapped.

It remains to be seen whether Houston will experience the same problems or whether citizens should be weary of the potential false readouts of these machines. However, regardless of the outcome, seeking the help of an experienced attorney is advised for those facing possible DUI charges. A conviction for DUI in Arizona carries serious consequences both short and long term.