An investigation by 5 Eyewitness News in Minnesota found evidence to suggest there are plenty of questions surrounding the reliability of the breathalyzers used by more than 200 law enforcement agencies across the state.
KSTP also uncovered court rulings by four judges in three different counties ordering the manufacturer of a specific type of breathalyzer – the DataMater DMT Breathalyzer – to provide defense attorneys with the device’s software so it could be further tested and its reliability ensured. In an interview with KSTP, local defense attorney Chuck Ramsay said he’s found on occasion that the DataMaster DMT has produced false positives and sometimes rounds breath tests up, instead of rounding down like it is supposed to do.
“It can report a result higher than it actually is,” said Ramsay. “And, in more and more cases we are finding these results are not valid, reliable or accurate.”
Ramsay said that the false positives occur when the device fails to properly “kick out interceptors,” which are particles that are supposed to be rejected by the machine in order to provide an accurate reading.
“So, it is designed to measure the amount of alcohol in the driver’s blood, but it is not doing that,” said Ramsay. “In some cases, it is measuring the alcohol in their stomach from the driver’s last drink which significantly changes the result.”
Jan Semenoff, a forensic criminalist who has testified in more than 150 DUI cases said he agrees with Ramsay’s suggestion that the device is not always accurate.
“What Mr. Ramsay has found would lead me to believe that people are being convicted on bad evidence. Not insufficient evidence, but bad evidence,” said Semenoff. “Based on any of this evidence, people in Minnesota have been wrongly convicted.”
He also hopes the breathalyzer software will become available soon so that experts can ensure it is reading alcohol content correctly every single time.
“If the test results are being inflated, or false positives are not being adequately identified, then you got a situation where the breath testing is being performed in a substandard manner and that’s not reliable forensic testing in any way, shape, or form,” said Semenoff.
We have a long history of challenging charges based on breathalyzer tests, so we’re glad to see their credibility being questioned. If you or someone you know has been convicted in part due to a breathalyzer reading and you want to see if anything can be done about the case, reach out to the experienced lawyers at Appelman Law Firm today.