The Breathalyzer black box

“Alcohol breath tests, a linchpin of the criminal justice system, are often unreliable, a Times investigation found…. Judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey have thrown out more than 30,000 breath tests in the past 12 months alone, largely because of human errors and lax governmental oversight…. A county judge in Pennsylvania called it ‘extremely questionable’ whether any of his state’s breath tests could withstand serious scrutiny.” A wide-ranging and disturbing look at what happens when a familiar and seemingly uncontroversial technology gets put to practical forensic field use. [Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times]

5 Comments

  • How many innocent people have had their lives seriously altered by flawed breathalyzers?

    How many is too many–given the reduction of drunk driving deaths on our roads?

    Obviously, there is always some risk—the problem is that the government doesn’t seem to care, often times about reducing it.

  • It is just as bad that breathalyzers don’t only measure just the amount of Ethyl Alcohol in the sample, they measure the amount of certain Methyl groups. This includes Ethyl Alcohol, Methyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Alcohol, Naptha, Toulene, Acetone and others. Breathalyzers were originally meant to obtain probable cause to get a warrant for a blood sample, not to be Judge and Jury. How many people have had their lives altered because they were told that they were not entitled to have a blood test?

  • If it saves one life…

  • A technology can be completely reliable, if the people using it want accurate results, yet very fishy if the people performing the measurement want particular results. And make no mistake about it, a number of cops out there WANT you to be over the legal limit for alcohol. I have a brother who was the designated driver for a night at a bar, and had nothing alcoholic to drink. He was pulled over while driving friends home, and blew 00 on a breathalyzer. The cop was upset, and made him go to the station for a blood test, which also showed no alcohol in his system. The cop, rather than being grateful that the law was being obeyed, was upset that he wasn’t able to get a DUI bust, thanks to that wretch of my brother who had nothing to drink when he was the designated driver. If the cops want an erroneous result on the breathalyzer, I am sure they have come up with ways to obtain them.

    • I hope your brother filed a complaint against the cop.

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