New York Times investigation: Breathalyzer test results can’t be trusted

Breathalyzer screenIt’s a tradition here in the Valley and across the country: every weekend people climb into their cars and drive to their favorite restaurants, bars, and nightclubs to eat, dance, hang out with friends and yes, drink.

Later in the evening some of those people will participate in another American tradition: taking a breathalyzer test after being pulled over by the police. It’s a bad way to end a great evening. That’s why we at Betras, Kopp & Harshman have a hard and fast rule about driving if you’ve had an alcoholic beverage or two or three or four:


Use a designated driver. Call Uber or Lyft. Get a ride from a friend or loved one. But please don’t drink and drive.

Unfortunately, as an in-depth investigation in the New York Times revealed, people who follow the rules are sometimes charged with OVI/DUI because the breathalyzers law enforcement uses to measure the blood alcohol level of people who are suspected of drunk driving aren’t reliable.

Here is the top takeaway from the investigation:

More than 1 million drivers a year are arrested for drunk driving, but the breath test technology supporting many of those arrests can be unreliable. Courts across the country have tossed out more than 50,000 tests in recent years because of problems with specific machines, errors made by police officers and mistakes by labs that set up and maintain the devices.

In the past year, more than 30,000 test results were thrown out by judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey. Other challenges are moving through the courts in states across the country. The machines used in Ohio are among those that have produced inaccurate results.

The Times notes that the machines are sensitive scientific instruments, but in many cases they haven’t been properly calibrated, yielding results that were at times 40 percent too high. Maintaining machines is up to police departments that sometimes have shoddy standards and lack expertise. In some cities, lab officials have used stale or home-brewed chemical solutions that warped results. In Massachusetts, officers used a machine with rats nesting inside.

We encourage you to read the shocking NYT report here:

Man taking field sobriety testAlong with making a strong case that breathalyzer results cannot be trusted, the Times report also features profiles of people whose lives were nearly destroyed because they were wrongly convicted of OVI based on faulty test results. We don’t want Valley residents to suffer the same fate. If you are pulled over by the police or stopped at a DUI checkpoint, you have rights. Here’s how to protect them:

  1. Take advantage of your right to consult an attorney before submitting to a breathalyzer test. Inform the officer or officers who are administering the test that you want to speak to a lawyer before you take it. If you download the free Betraslaw app you will be able to contact a member of our legal team with one tap on the screen of your smartphone. You can download the app by searching for it in the App Store on Google play or by accessing the links we’ve posted at and our Facebook page.
  2. To blow or not to blow? We’re asked this question often. But there is no blanket answer because the circumstances surrounding every case are different. That is why you should contact us before submitting to the test. In general, however, because failure to take the test will result in an automatic one-year suspension of your driver’s license you should take it, especially if you have never been charged with DUI before and you have not been involved in an accident.
  3. If you are charged with DUI/OVI hire experienced legal counsel. OVI is a serious offense that carries steep penalties. Attempting to represent yourself in an OVI case is, in a word, reckless. If you are convicted you will be fined, you could be sentenced to jail, you may lose your driving privileges for a long period of time, and you will be forced to pay incredibly high auto insurance premiums for a number of years. In addition, an OVI conviction could get you fired from your current job and may make it difficult to find another.                                                  Don’t face these consequences on your own. When you retain Betras, Kopp & Harshman to represent you we will be with you at your first hearing, ask the court to allow you to drive as your case works its way through the judicial system, investigate the circumstances surrounding your arrest, provide sound legal advice, and fight to obtain the best possible outcome, including a dismissal or acquittal.
  4. Is it possible to successfully defend a DUI in court? The answer is yes. Our experienced OVI/DUI Defense Team led by Atty. David Betras has represented thousands of clients charged with impaired driving. If we believe you should not have been arrested and charged we will use our expertise and knowledge of the law to have the charges dismissed or win an acquittal in court. That expertise includes challenging the results of breathalyzer tests which, as the NYT report notes, are not always reliable or accurate.

If you or someone you know has been charged with impaired driving, contact the Betras, Kopp & Harshman OVI/DUI Defense Team right away by calling 330-746-8484, 800-457-2889, or by using the Betraslaw app. We’re here to fight for you.