Police officers and prosecutors who are trying to enforce the state's laws that prohibit driving under the influence (DUI) rely in large part on breathalyzers. After all, breath tests are the quickest and the least intrusive ways for police to gather evidence of a DUI crime, so they use them often, and drivers frequently agree to provide a breath sample.
However, those breathalyzers are not perfect machines. If calibrated improperly, they can produce wrong results that lead to false positives and the arrest of innocent drivers.
That is exactly what we are seeing in New Jersey, where faulty breathalyzers might lead to the dismissal of up to 20,000 DUI charges in five counties in the state dating back to 2008.
Police Officer Found Not Calibrating Breathalyzers
New Jersey police sergeant Marc Dennis was in charge of calibrating breath test machines for five counties in the state, starting in that role back in 2008. Last year, though, his supervisor found out that Dennis was deliberately skipping a crucial step in the recalibration process, and then claiming to have performed it on the paperwork that he completed for each recalibration.
The skipped step was not a small one: The liquid inside the portable breathalyzer machine is supposed to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the entire chemical process that goes on inside the machine relies on this temperature. In his recalibrations, though, Dennis did not even check the temperature.
The finding did not just lead to criminal charges against Dennis for third-degree tampering with public records and fourth-degree falsifying records, it also threw into doubt the accuracy of all of the breath testing machines that he had touched over the past decade.
Over 20,000 DUI Cases Might Get Dismissed
Suddenly, the heavy reliance on the breathalyzer machines that Dennis claims to have recalibrated is backfiring on the New Jersey police: The faulty breathalyzers might implicate a reported 20,667 DUI cases, pending and finalized, between 2008 and 2016.
A poorly calibrated breathalyzer machine could have drastic implications for each one of those DUI cases. Not only could it create a “false positive” out of a breath sample that only a couple of decimal points below the legal limit of 0.08%, but it could also impact how strict of a penalty should be imposed on those who were convicted: In New Jersey, blowing above 0.10% on a breathalyzer results in increased penalties.
Georgia's Breathalyzers Need Calibration, Too
The machines that are used in New Jersey are different than the ones that the police use here, in Georgia. However, just because it is a different breath testing machine does not mean that Georgia's breathalyzers do not need constant recalibration to keep results accurate.
Georgia DUI-Defense Attorney Richard Lawson
The fact that no one in New Jersey noticed that their breathalyzers were improperly calibrated for nearly a decade is worrisome. DUI-defense attorney Richard Lawson knows how much police rely on their breath testing kits, and understands how they can produce false positives and inaccurate results. The calibration phase is just one of the places where things can go wrong.