Florida Breathalyzer Testing Doesn’t Quash Accuracy Debate

The accuracy of Florida DUI breathalyzer tests has long been the subject of debate.
It doesn’t appear that debate is going to end anytime soon, despite the conclusion of a four-year battle to have the machines thoroughly tested by third-party consultants. With both defense lawyers and prosecutors analyzing the same results, one said says the machines “passed with flying colors,” while the other says certain flaws and inconsistencies were identified.

The discrepancies will ultimately continue to be analyzed in future Florida DUI cases for years to come.

It started four years ago in Brevard County, with defense lawyers filed a motion on behalf of numerous DUI defendants, asking to have the Intoxilyzer 8000 breath-testing machine vetted for accuracy. This machine is the only one used by law enforcement agencies across the state, and it has received the approval stamp of both the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Defense lawyers had argued that the machines are central to the outcome of so many DUI cases, and questions of their accuracy have lingered for years. In some cases, both in Florida and elsewhere in the country, inaccuracies or at least inconsistencies have resulted in numerous cases being dropped. Just a few years ago in Washington D.C., the Metro Police Department was forced to sideline the breathalyzer program when it was revealed the machines weren’t being properly calibrated, resulting in readings that were wrongly skewed too high.

The entire legal process as it pertains to a DUI conviction rests on whether these machines are right.

But prosecutors fought hard against the testing of the machines here in Florida, saying there was “no evidence” the machines had caused a problem in the cases that were before the court, and as such, there was no reason to doubt their reliability.

Finally, in late September, a judge granted approval to have the machines tested. They would be heated to extreme temperatures, cooled to below freezing and shaken violently. They would then be tested again. The goal was to determine whether outside factors could have a potential impact on the accuracy of the machines, which were supplied by the sheriff’s office in Brevard.

Over the course of three days, analysts put the machines through various torture tests.

The defense was quick to point out that there was an error on one of the readings, though prosecutors say that was attributable to a malfunction on the printer, not the machine itself.

Another key point that is being argued involves a tiny nitrogen and alcohol tank, which is deemed critical to the function of the device. The part involves the machine’s ability to self-test for accuracy prior to each individual use. When the machine was shaken, the gas inside the machine cracked the face plate, causing gas to seep from the tank.

Prosecutors contend that such conditions aren’t realistic in a normal environmental setting. However, defense attorneys say that the machines failed to live up to durability standards.

In the end, there isn’t really a right or wrong answer. Rather, the results provide further evidence to be set before the court, to be ultimately parsed and decided by jurors on a case-by-case basis.

If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
Tests don’t end Intoxilyzer DUI machine debate, Oct. 14, 2013, By Andrew Ford, Florida Today
More Blog Entries:
Florida Boating DUI Penalties as Harsh as Those on Land, June 6, 2013, Fort Lauderdale DUI Lawyer Blog

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