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Florida Supreme Court to hear dispute over breath test machine

When authorities accuse a driver of DUI, often their case rests upon one main piece of evidence- the breath test. Often called a "Breathalyzer test," this is a simple analysis of a person's blood-alcohol content based on the composition of the air they exhale. Breath tests allow for police officers to make quick judgments of driver's blood alcohol content; drivers who register over .08 percent will find themselves in serious legal trouble.

But what if the test is not reliable? How can the police be sure the results are accurate? This is the question asked by three Florida defendants, who have asked for permission to examine the software behind the Intoxilyzer 8000, the only breath test machine certified for use in Florida.

The defendants say they wish to put the device's software up for independent review, to ensure that it is accurate in all circumstances. The Intoxilyzer's creators, however, have resisted the defendants' request, perhaps out of a desire to protect trade secrets. A lawsuit ensued, in which the three defendants asked a judge to force the Kentucky-based company to release the software information. A trial judge originally sided with the three individuals, but an appeals court in Daytona Beach reversed the ruling. Early next year, the Supreme Court will hear the arguments.

It is not clear whether the three individuals mentioned in the case have any evidence to suggest that the machines may be malfunctioning. Regardless, it raises an interesting and important point about drunk driving arrests. Neither humans nor machines are infallible. In order for breath test machines to provide accurate information, they must be used correctly and maintained properly. They must also be regularly calibrated. If evidence from a breath test machine is to be used in court, prosecutors must be able to show that the test was done properly and the machine was well cared for; failure to meet this standard could result in dismissal of breath test evidence.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Florida justices delay hearing on DUI test machine," Dec. 4, 2012

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