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Are breathalyzers used in DUI cases accurate?

Are you worried about losing your driver's license for a DUI offense? If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, there is new hope. Attorneys and judges are starting to increasingly question whether the breathalyzer used by many Kansas communities gives accurate results.

Critics say the Intoxilyzer 8000 used in Johnson, Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Douglas counties is notorious for giving false positives. Concerns go back as far as 2007.

When a person suspected of driving under the influence blows into the machine, the Intoxilyzer 8000 measures the person's blood-alcohol level. However, detractors say soda, mouthwash containing alcohol, and even bread can skew the machine's results. Radio frequencies -- such as those found in a smartphone or police radio -- can also cause the machine to give incorrect results.

Traditionally, the results of a breathalyzer are the primary evidence used in DUI cases and are hard to argue against in court. But if the machine cannot be trusted, judges may have to rethink that evidence. In Florida and Ohio, attorneys are challenging the Intoxilyzer's results, and judges have thrown out numerous drunk driving cases.

A spokesman for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office said the department stands behind the machine and its results. The department has strict policies and procedures that include testing the machines every week. If an Intoxilyzer does not perform as expected during the test, the department does not use it.

The department's spokesman also brushed off concerns about radio signals interfering with the machine. The Intoxilyzer 8000 automatically resets itself if a radio signal causes it to malfunction, he said.

Giving a breathalyzer is just one method the Johnson County Sheriff's Office uses to determine if someone was operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, the spokesman added.

People who think the results of their breath test are incorrect should request a test from an outside source. In order to be valid, the independent test needs to be done shortly after the initial test.

Source: KCTV News 5, "New information questions accuracy of breathalyzers," Jeanene Kiesling, Nov. 19, 2011

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