When a person is suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol by a police officer, they are sometimes asked to submit to breathalyzer tests for DC DUIs.
A breathalyzer test uses an instrument called an Intoxilyzer or Intoximeter machine. The machine collects a sample of a person’s breath and uses that sample to calculate their blood alcohol content.
The machine gives the results as a number which is the ratio of alcohol to blood in the person’s system. As a skilled DUI attorney knows, that result is referred to as the person’s blood alcohol content, and could potentially impact your criminal trial.
Breathalyzer tests for DC DUIs are only useful for determining a person’s blood alcohol content. They are not useful for determining whether a person has drugs or medication in their system. When the officer believes a person may be under the influence of alcohol while driving, the officer can ask them to submit to a breathalyzer test.
The breathalyzer test that the police ask someone to submit to at the police station is the only kind of breathalyzer test that is usable evidence in a DUI case. Prior to that, a police officer may ask a person to submit to a roadside breath test or a portable breath test.
This is a much smaller breath testing machine that the police may use on the scene of an arrest as opposed to back at the station. The results of a portable roadside breath test are not admissible in court and there is no requirement for a person to submit to a roadside breath test. The result of that roadside breath test is not usable as evidence, one way or the other.
There is a long history of unreliable breathalyzer tests for DC DUIs. For many years, Metropolitan Police Department and the DC Attorney General’s Office stopped using breath testing as a way of determining a person’s blood alcohol content.
The major issue in 2011 was the realization that the city’s breathalyzer machines were being improperly calibrated and improperly tested for accuracy such that they may have been producing false high results for people’s blood alcohol content; potentially for years. This was a problem because the Attorney General’s Office uses the results of these tests to convict people and sometimes to put people in jail as a result of driving under the influence cases.
When those revelations came to light in 2011, the DC government stopped using breathalyzer machines and did a complete overhaul of the breath testing system. The overhaul lasted several years and eventually the DC government reinstated a breath testing system using new machines and new calibration methods to ensure accurate results.
When a police officer pulls a driver over for speeding or some kind of traffic infraction, the police officer may come to the conclusion that there is probable cause to believe that the person is under the influence of alcohol.
Probable cause is a very low standard; it is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is not even proof that it is more likely than not that a person is under the influence.
It may simply be any bare minimum amount of evidence that causes an officer to believe there is a possibility that a person might be under the influence of alcohol.
That decision could be based on the smell of alcohol on a person’s breath, the result of a field sobriety test, or the general ways in which a person stands, talks or comports themselves.
The only test admissible in court is the breathalyzer machine used at the police stations. These are also the only breathalyzer tests for DC DUIs where a person faces potential penalties for refusing to take a breath test using the station breathalyzer machines.
While there are no allegations that the current breath testing system is unreliable, DUI defense lawyers are still vigilant about looking at breath testing, breathalyzer calibration, and breathalyzer accuracy tests.
They want to make sure that the same problems that occurred years ago do not happen again so that no one is faced with the possibility of inaccurate evidence in a driving under the influence case.
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