The Science of Breathalyzers in North Dakota
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The Science of Breathalyzers in North Dakota

6th October 2023

Breathalyzers play a critical role in DUI (driving under the influence) cases in Fargo, North Dakota, and across the United States. Manufacturers design these devices to measure a driver’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from their breath. Understanding the science behind breathalyzers is crucial because it can affect legal outcomes, ensuring fairness in the justice system.

Don’t assume you’re guilty of DUI in Fargo just because a breathalyzer device showed your BAC was too high. At Sand Law, we know these devices aren’t infallible. If there are any doubts regarding the results, we’ll do all we can to invalidate them and help you achieve the best possible results in your case.

Please contact us as soon as you can to schedule a free consultation. Call 701-609-1510 or use our online form.

History of Breathalyzers

Breath testing for alcohol dates back to the early 20th century when concerns about drunk driving emerged. The first significant breakthrough in this field came in 1953 with the invention of the “breathalyzer” by Dr. Robert Borkenstein. This early device used potassium dichromate and other chemicals to estimate a person’s BAC. When someone blew into the device, the alcohol in their breath would react with the chemicals, causing a color change. Police then used the intensity of this color change to estimate their BAC.

Over time, technology has evolved significantly. Early breathalyzers had their limitations, including a lack of precision and the need for trained operators. In modern times, breathalyzer devices have advanced considerably. They now employ more sophisticated methods for measuring BAC, making them more accurate and user-friendly.

How Breathalyzers Work

Breathalyzers are intricate devices designed to measure the concentration of alcohol in a person’s breath, a value closely related to their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Understanding how they operate sheds light on their effectiveness in determining if an individual is driving under the influence of alcohol.

Contemporary breathalyzers commonly employ infrared (IR) spectroscopy. It functions by passing an infrared light beam through a breath sample. Alcohol molecules in the breath absorb this light at specific wavelengths, allowing the device to quantify the amount of alcohol present. This highly accurate method provides rapid results, making it a preferred choice for law enforcement.

Another prevalent technology is fuel cell technology. In this approach, the breath sample enters a fuel cell, undergoing a chemical reaction with alcohol. This reaction generates an electrical current. The strength of this current is directly proportional to the concentration of alcohol in the breath. Fuel cell-based breathalyzers are known for their accuracy and speed, making them suitable for roadside and law enforcement use.

Factors Affecting Breathalyzer Accuracy

Breathalyzer technology has come a long way since the mid-20th century. But as advanced as they might be, they’re not always accurate. The accuracy of the device used in your case will profoundly impact whether or not the court finds you guilty.

Several factors can influence the accuracy of these devices, including the following:

  • Residual alcohol: After recent alcohol consumption or the use of mouthwash, traces of alcohol can linger in the mouth. When someone breathes into the device, these remnants can artificially inflate the BAC reading, leading to false high readings.
  • Body temperature and breathing patterns: Variations in body temperature and breathing patterns can affect the rate at which the bloodstream absorbs alcohol. This can introduce variability in breathalyzer results.
  • Device calibration and maintenance: Proper calibration and regular maintenance of breathalyzer devices are paramount. A device may produce unreliable results without accurate calibration, potentially leading to incorrect legal consequences.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux or diabetes, can impact the chemical composition of breath. These conditions may affect the accuracy of breathalyzer readings, so it’s crucial to consider them when interpreting results.
  • Previous use: If police failed to clean the breathalyzer used in your case correctly, it could still be contaminated with alcohol. That could impact the results as well.

Reliability of Breathalyzers in North Dakota

Breathalyzer results aren’t absolute. They come with a statistical margin of error. Numerous studies have examined their accuracy, with some revealing the potential for both false positives and false negatives.

You must understand that laboratory tests, conducted under controlled conditions, tend to be more precise than field tests performed by law enforcement officers in less controlled environments. The margin of error is a critical consideration when evaluating the reliability of breathalyzer results.

Contesting Evidence from Breathalyzers in North Dakota

If facing a DUI charge, you can challenge breathalyzer evidence in court. There are various strategies your lawyer could use to have that evidence thrown out.

  • Validity of test results: Your attorney will likely question the results of your breathalyzer. There could be doubts about the accuracy of the specific device used.
  • The officer’s training: Investigating the training and proficiency of the law enforcement officer who administered the test could be crucial to your case. An attorney can bring mistakes made during the testing process into question.
  • Device calibration: Your lawyer may also examine the calibration and maintenance records of the breathalyzer device to ensure it was in proper working condition during testing.
  • Alternative explanations: They might also introduce alternative explanations for high BAC readings, such as residual mouth alcohol or underlying medical conditions that could influence the results.
  • Expert testimonies: Attorneys often engage expert witnesses who can provide testimony on the science behind breathalyzers, potential flaws in the testing process, and the margin of error associated with these devices.

Legal Limits and Consequences

North Dakota’s legal BAC level is .08%. Exceeding this limit can result in severe consequences, including fines, license suspension, and imprisonment. Aggravating factors, such as prior DUI convictions or alcohol-related accidents, can lead to enhanced penalties.

Tips for Drivers

It’s essential to practice safe driving habits and consider alternatives to driving after consuming alcohol. When stopped by law enforcement, drivers can decide whether to take a breathalyzer test, although there may be consequences for refusing. Get legal help as fast as you can. An experienced Fargo DUI attorney will explore all possible defenses against DUI charges.

Contact Sand Law to Speak with a DUI Defense Attorney in North Dakota

The attorneys with Sand Law deeply understand the science and limitations of breathalyzers. We’ll work to ensure fair treatment if you’re facing a DUI charge, fighting for your rights at every turn. Get in touch with us by contacting us online or calling 701-609-1510 for a free case review.