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What can go wrong with a breath test for BAC?

On Behalf of | Jan 2, 2019 | BAC

Like many people, you may slip behind the wheel after enjoying a glass of wine at dinner or a couple of beers with friends and feel that you have no problem driving.

Recently, however, you saw a driver taking a breath test at the side of the road. This made you wonder about breath tests in general. Are they foolproof in determining blood alcohol content? Should you submit to one if law enforcement pulls you over?

Breath test issues

An incident that occurred in Philadelphia illustrates that breath test devices can have accuracy issues. In June of 2016, the Philadelphia police department discovered that its breath test machines had expired calibration dates. Specifically, it was the solution used to ensure that the readings are accurate. The department immediately removed the breath test devices from service, filled them with new solution and returned them to action the same day.

Problems raised

As the attorney who noticed the issue pointed out, this kind of calibration error could have affected the outcomes of 500 to 1,000 DUI cases for the first six months of the year. Law enforcement officials asked the District Attorney to review any of those cases that included breath test results. The issue was that the court might dismiss cases involving the expired solution: Defense attorneys could claim that the tests were inadmissible in court as evidence against those accused of DUI.

The PBT machine

In the state of Missouri, law enforcement officers carry portable breath test machines. The PBT is a hand-held breath test device, and if law enforcement stops you on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the officer may ask you to breathe into the PBT. You can politely decline, no matter how many times the officer asks–and there may be several. Your refusal will not result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

What to do

If you refuse to take the PBT test, the officer may take you to the police station and ask you to take an official breath test. Remember that machines can malfunction, and that law enforcement officers can make procedural mistakes. At this point, you need to explore your legal options before you commit to taking the breath test.


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Travis Noble is a graduate of the National College for DUI Defense at Harvard University, and he lectures at seminars nationwide on DWI/DUI topics. He is the lawyer whom other lawyers consult to defend their DWI clients. Most importantly, he has a track record of successfully defending some of the toughest DWI cases in Missouri and beyond.

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