DUI Trial Could Determine the Fate of Breath Test Machine

The contentious dispute over the reliability of the Intoxilyzer 8000 may be decided soon. In the DUI trial of Felicia Birdwell, testimony will center around whether prosecutors may introduce breath test results into evidence without calling an expert to testify as to machine's reliability to accurately measure a driver's BAC level.

If the court rules in favor of prosecutors, it could ask juries to presume a driver was legally drunk based on breath test results alone. This would be a powerful weapon in DUI cases. Without this authority, prosecutors would have a difficult time proving impairment without expert witness testimony; thus making it harder to get DUI pleas. Currently, prosecutors must bring in an expert before introducing test results in court; a practice that costs $1,000 per day.

However, defense attorneys contend that they are entitled to challenge the machine's reliability anytime the results are used to prove a defendant's guilt. They argue that it has never been proven to work properly 100 percent of the time. Also, they believe that there is no way to determine if breath test results are based on scientific principles, since the manufacturer refuses to disclose the source code used in the machines. Further, defense lawyers maintain that Intoxilyzer results can be manipulated due to inherent flaws that could adversely affect a person's liberties.

Judges in Sarasota and Manatee counties have ruled that DUI defendants and their attorneys have a right to see how the machine works and assess its reliability.

Last year, hundreds of DUI cases in Washington, D.C., were thrown out because miscalibration showed drivers' BAC levels to be 20 percent higher than they actually were. Defense attorneys believe that hundreds of cases in Florida could be affected if a similar result is found, including the exclusion of breath tests altogether.

If you have been charged with DUI based on a breath test result, an experienced criminal defense attorney can advise you of your rights and options.