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Flaws in new alcohol breath-test device concern legal advocates

Occasionally, we report concerns about the reliability of the breast-test technology used to gather evidence against individuals suspected of driving while intoxicated. Recent reports, however, clearly indicate that flawed technology may be putting the freedom of many Texas residents accused of drunk driving at risk.

Some law enforcement agencies have implemented the use of the Datamaster DMT-G testing machine. The idea behind the technology is that it uses two separate testing methods, which is supposed to increase its reliability and accuracy. However, one of the testing processes, which utilizes fuel cells, has been called into question for repeated instances of unreliability.

Reacting to this problem, some law enforcement officials have tested using only one technology, which obviously prevents them from using the purported benefits of this particular machine. In general, the machine is used to verify a person's blood-alcohol content once they are brought to the police station following an arrest.

Reports indicate that the fuel cells have short and inconsistent shelf lives, which can lead to a legal nightmare for those suspected of drunk driving. Officials from the machine's manufacturer claim they are trying to fix the problem, but the fuel cells used in the device require an environment with high humidity to properly function. Since Texas is traditionally a very dry state, with relatively low levels of humidity, this may be of particular concern in our state.

Blood-alcohol content readings are often one of the biggest pieces of evidence used against those accused of drunk driving. Police insist that such readings provide a scientific and accurate number to confirm their suspicions of illegal activities. However, this report of imperfect testing technology furthers concerns that some drunk driving convictions are based on erroneous evidence.

Examining the veracity of testing technology is one concern that should be addressed following a drunk driving arrest. If police make an arrest and pursue charges based on results from equipment that has documented issues, then the prosecution's case may not have the traction necessary to secure a conviction.

Source: Star Tribune, "New DWI tester is called flawed," David Chanen, June 9, 2012

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