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Can you challenge a high breathalyzer reading?

Yes, under the right circumstances. Breath testing machines are not magic. They can be broken, miscalibrated or operated incorrectly. If you think your breathalyzer test was unduly high, you should bring your concerns to an experienced DUI defense lawyer.

Late last year, the New York Times published an investigation into how reliable breath testing machines actually are. The investigation took place after over 30,000 breathalyzer test results were thrown out by courts in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and other jurisdictions have begun to recognize that breath testing machines are far from infallible -- especially if law enforcement doesn't perform due diligence to set them up correctly and keep them accurate.

The Times' investigation found that these ubiquitous machines, which are advertised to be precise, are wrong a disturbing amount of the time. When they are wrong, they tend to overestimate the person's blood alcohol content rather than underestimate it.

Unless breathalyzers are set up properly the first time and then recalibrated routinely, they can be wrong. They can also be wrong when an officer lacks the appropriate training and performs the test incorrectly.

In addition, the Times found critical software issues with some machines. Sometimes, states have purchased breath testing machines even though their own experts doubted the machines were reasonably accurate. And, in some cases, officers have disabled safeguards that were intended to ensure the accuracy of the tests.

What does this mean for you?

First, understand that your result from the roadside breath test is only preliminary. Once you blow an elevated test at a traffic stop, you will generally be brought down to the station to take another test that is supposed to be accurate. The Times found problems with both the roadside and the official stationhouse versions.

There could be many reasons why your breathalyzer results were higher than you expected. There are some medical conditions, for example, that can elevate your result. But the reality is that breathalyzer tests can be wrong based on an incorrect setup, miscalibration or improper administration.

Don't plead guilty to your DUI charge if you want to challenge your breathalyzer result. Talk to a lawyer about your reasons for believing the result was unduly high.

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