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Hundreds of DUI cases challenged due to faulty breath test

When a driver is suspected of driving drunk, police will most likely ask the driver to take a breath test. As we mentioned last week, drivers could face a 12-month license suspension in Georgia for refusing to provide a breath test because of implied consent laws.

By issuing a breath test, police can determine whether an individual has been drinking alcohol. When readings are 0.08 or higher, police will arrest the driver and the individual will most likely face DUI charges. But how reliable are these tests? Could the results of one's breath test ever be inaccurate?

In one state, evidence from hundreds of breath tests issued over the past year could be thrown out because of a potential flaw in the breath test device that had been used during DUI arrests. The DataMaster DMT-G had been used as a replacement for the Intoxilyzer 5000EN, which was pulled from the field because of concerns regarding its reliability. Now the DataMaster is facing similar challenges.

The technology used in the DataMaster combines fuel-cells and infrared capabilities, resulting in two separate tests in one device. If the results of the two tests are different to a significant degree, the device rejects the results. However, if the two tests return results within a certain range, the lower of the two is accepted and used as evidence against a suspected drunk driver.

The problem with the DataMaster has been the fuel-cell component. In the state where the devices are being used, the cold, dry weather renders the fuel-cells inoperable. Police have dealt with this issue by disabling the fuel-cell test and using only the infrared portion of the device. Police spokesmen maintain that the infrared test is all that is needed for reliable results even the though the device is designed to detect alcohol levels in two different ways.

Problems with this testing device and how it has been administered call into question the reliability of the device as a whole. Before any more individuals are charged on the basis of potentially faulty DataMaster readings, attorneys insist, the reliability of the device must be determined to a satisfactory degree. Although this issue does not affect Georgia residents for the time being, it does raise concerns about the reliability of other breath test devices that are being used throughout the entire country.

Source: Star Tribune, "New DWI tester is called flawed," David Chanen, June 9, 2012