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How Breathalyzer tests fail in Michigan

The invention of the Breathalyzer and similar devices revolutionized enforcement of drunk driving laws. For the first time, police and prosecutors could say they had an objective, convenient way to measure a suspect’s blood-alcohol content in a moment. Often, the result of the breath test is the key piece of evidence against a person put on trial for DUI, comparable only to the testimony of the arresting officer.

Many people assume that if the Breathalyzer said the defendant was over the legal limit, it must be true. The truth is, these devices are not infallible, and inflated test results happen. Without the benefit of a vigorous, thorough defense, many people in Michigan are convicted of drinking and driving, or pressured into pleading guilty, when they had not violated the law.

Among the questions that a defense attorney can pose about the breath test are:

  • Was the Breathalyzer properly calibrated or maintained before the officer used it on the defendant?
  • Did the officer properly advise the defendant of his or her right to take an alternative test instead, or his or her right to seek an independent test?
  • Before the officer administered the Breathalyzer, did he or she have the reasonable suspicion necessary to stop the defendant’s vehicle in the first place? Afterward, did he or she have probable cause to make the arrest?

These questions raise two possible issues. If the device was improperly calibrated, it likely produced an inaccurate result. And if the arresting officer failed to follow procedure, the defendant’s rights were violated. Any evidence seized during an illegal search or arrest will be thrown out of court.

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