One of the most common methods used by law enforcement officials to determine if a driver is under the influence is to administer a breath test. In Georgia, the machine most often used for breath tests is the Intoxilyzer 5000*. Breath test machines like the Intoxilyzer are fairly accurate at determining the blood alcohol content of a healthy test subject when kept and maintained under ideal conditions and used properly. However, after decades of defending DUI cases in Georgia, it becomes clear that breath test machines are not always used in the ideal manner, and therefore the results they obtain can be questionable. Some conditions can lead to false positives or other errors.
Medical Conditions and Acetone
Acetone is an organic compound that is produced by the body. It is normally found in the blood and urine of all humans. When an individual has normal levels of acetone, the reading produced by a breath test machine will not be affected. However, when a person has very high levels of acetone, results can be raised as much as .02% (the legal limit for a DUI is .08%).
Several common medical conditions can cause a person to have higher levels of acetone. Individuals with diabetes can have a metabolic process that results in excess acetone being present in the blood and urine. Women who are pregnant and nursing can also have elevated levels of acetone. Even people who are dieting (most commonly those following a high-fat, low carbohydrate plan known as a ketogenic diet) can have elevated levels of acetone. Therefore, it is plausible that a person could truly have a blood alcohol level of .06% (and therefore be under the legal limit) but test at .08% due to certain medical conditions.
Presence of Alcohol in the Mouth
Police officers are instructed to refrain from administering a breathalyzer test if a person has been actively consuming alcohol in the last 15-20 minutes. If this waiting period is not properly observed, some residual alcohol may still be in the mouth, which can create results higher than the actual blood alcohol content. Even burping after consuming an alcoholic beverage can cause trace amounts of alcohol to rise and be present in the mouth during a breath test. In addition to alcoholic beverages, some substances such as mouthwash, breath freshener, and cough syrups can contain alcohol that may remain in the mouth.
Issues with the Breath Test Machine
There are many procedures that must be followed in the use, storage, calibration and maintenance of a breath test machine. If just one of these steps is not taken, it could result in the machine being contaminated and having an inaccurate reading. An experienced DUI defense attorney who knows the ins and outs of what is required to maintain such a machine can advise you on what should be examined if you were given a breath test.
Breath Test Machines and Those Under Age 21
If one of these conditions were present for a driver under the age of 21, there could be severe implications during a DUI investigation. The legal limit for drivers under the drinking age is .02. This means that an error caused by a medical condition or machine malfunction could result in a completely unwarranted charge of driving under the influence.
Could You Have Been The Victim of a Breath Test Machine Error?
We'd like to believe that all equipment used by law enforcement officials is flawless, as these tools are so often used to keep the public safe. However, there are times when this just isn't the case, and unfortunately for some drivers, this can be when a breathalyzer test is given. If you were charged with DUI, and have any concerns whatsoever about the breath sample you gave, please contact my law office. No matter what your BAC was at the time of arrest, there could be many legal challenges which can be leveled against a breath test machine. I have decades of experience challenging a variety of chemical tests, even when the driver initially thought the case was hopeless. If you find yourself in this situation, give us a call immediately.