on 15 May 18
According to a February 2013 Sunshine State News report, in early 2013 The Florida State Supreme Court was presented with arguments to obtain confidential software documents from the manufacturing company which explains exactly how breath test devices work. This data was undoubtedly sought to challenge the validity of the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) results. In the past state governments have routinely accepted the results of the electronic breathalyzer as effective evidence in the prosecution of all charges for driving under the influence of alcohol, but irregularities caused by technical and/or manual issues have prompted doubt.
Questionable breathalyzer technology could have a considerable impact on local Florida DUI law. Because of the large tourism industry and the dense seasonal population in the state, transportation safety is of the utmost importance. According to a leading Gainesville Florida DUI lawyer, "(Florida) prosecutors and law enforcement officials would like you to believe that DUI cases are 'open and shut'. This is untrue. Although one might attempt to rely on an excuse that the breathalyzer is unreliable, a professional familiar with the local prosecuting court system is still needed.
Impact of the Decision
Trial judges and attorneys have long relied on breath testing devices to prosecute drunk driving, but many of the charges are not necessarily supported by this type of evidence. Breathalyzers do not literally evaluate alcohol. They actually identify any chemical mixture that has the methyl group as a part of its molecular structure. Some of these compounds can be found in normal human breath, while thousands of others can be present in various items used daily.
Technically, a breathalyzer sensor will see all methyl group compound chemicals as alcohol. Thus in more cases than needed, the device will report a falsely high BAC. This could easily result in an across-the-board reconsideration for classification and prosecution of all DUIs prosecuted without using the evidence.
The concerns over credible evidence are problematic if the argument against breathalyzers becomes an effective criminal defense. The ultimate result could be weaker prosecutions for intoxicated driving. In addition, successfully contesting the faulty breathalyzer technology may mean the results will no longer be admissible as material evidence in drunk driving prosecutions.
Breath analyzers used in field sobriety tests are not admissible in court, but the officer can use the general results in determining intoxication level by observation. Currently, police officers have two hours to administer the electronic analyzer from time of arrest. It is important to remember that the police officer is the actual officer of the court pressing the charge, so their testimony may be the only evidence in some cases if the state's high court rules against device validity.
There is little doubt that the final result will ultimately be fewer convictions for DUI in general. Borderline cases will become very arguable on a first charge, but could still prove difficult for multiple offenders. There could also be a considerable increase in the number of case trials, which also results in increased court expenses and delays.
The Florida decision could affect how other states implement drunk driving prosecutions. All states essentially use a similar machine, so there is a distinct possibility that reassessment of the services may provide an impetus to design a more modern and accurate measuring device.