Latest Breathalyzer Proves No More Reliable Than Others

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on February 8th, 2010

As readers of this blog are aware, one of my pet peeves is the public’s blind trust in the little metal boxes that analyze a DUI suspect’s breath and spit out a number that supposedly represents the amount of alcohol in his blood.  The simple, scientifically proven fact is that all the various models of these so-called "breathalyzers" are both inaccurate and unreliable.  See, for example, How Breathalyzers Work (and Why They Don’t).

Ask yourself:  If these machines are so trustworthy, why do all the manufacturers keep coming out with new, "improved" versions?  See "State of the Art" Breathalyzers: A History

One of the latest "improved" models is the Intoxilyzer 8000, manufactured by one of the biggest companies in the field, CMI, Inc., of Owensboro, Kentucky.  CMI has previously produced two of the most popular machines (in different versions tailored for local law enforcement preferences) — the Intoxilyzer 4011 and the Intoxilyzer 5000. 

So how good is this latest, "state-of-the-art" model? 


$7 Million DUI Tests Little Used

Columbus, OH.  Feb. 7 — In the nine months since state officials unveiled a new device hailed as a potent new weapon against drunken driving, the equipment has been used rarely and only in a few rural and suburban pockets of Ohio.

A federal grant provided $7 million to buy 710 portable breath testers in December 2008 despite warnings from attorneys, local judges and some scientists that the machines were unreliable and vulnerable to legal challenges.

The Intoxilyzer 8000 made its debut in Clermont County in May. Since then, the instrument has been used just 1,116 times, in five counties that, combined, have only 3 percent of Ohio’s population. Officials could not say how many drunken-driving convictions have resulted from the use of the instrument.

Priced at about $9,000 each, the Intoxilyzer 8000 is supposed to be a big step forward in efforts by police to take drunken drivers off the road…

Lawyers in several other states have been able to get thousands of convictions thrown out based on the refusal of the Intoxilyzer manufacturer, CMI Inc. of Kentucky, to turn over details of the machine’s operations.

But Fairfield driver Lindsey Fintak and other Ohio drunken-driving suspects apparently won’t be able to challenge Intoxilyzer results on that basis. A 1984 Ohio Supreme Court decision barred defendants from attacking the reliability of breath testers once they’ve been certified for use by the state Health Department…


So why are the manufacturers — including CMI — refusing to let anyone (even prosecutors and judges) look into the software that drives these machines?  In the one case where the manufacturer (Draeger) obeyed a court order — from the New Jersey Supreme Court — the machine involved (AlcoTest 7110) was found to use antiquated software that failed to meet even the most basic governmental and industrial standards.  See Secret Breathalyzer Software Finally Revealed

So how accurate and reliable are these machines that are used in court to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt?  Put simply, "Close enough for government work".

Finally, ask yourself:  When these machines constitute the sole evidence of an accused citizen’s blood-alcohol level, why are defense attorneys in Ohio not permitted to question their reliability in trial?
 

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