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What are some common causes of breath test contamination?

Posted by Eric Olson | Mar 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

If you are pulled over for suspected DWI in the state of Minnesota, you may be asked to provide a breath test to the responding officer. This will allow the officer to measure your blood alcohol content (BAC). In the state of Minnesota, the legal limit is .08, and if your test result shows above .08, you will likely be arrested for DWI.

So if your test shows a higher result, does this mean you are automatically guilty? No. There are many factors to consider in a DWI case, and one of them is the legitimacy of the breath test itself because the test could have been contaminated.

There are two different breath tests administered to DWI suspects, the test in the field and the test administered at the station after a suspect is read the implied consent advisory. It is the test from the station that is admittted for trial. And breath test contamination is a real possibility with either test, for a variety of reasons, some of which we'll discuss here.

Many law enforcement departments in the state of Minnesota use a breath test machine called the Datamaster. While this machine generally provides accurate readings, its results have been shown to be inaccurate when sampling the breath of individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as acid reflux disease. This disease can cause previously consumed alcohol to be regurgitated into an individual's system, and the breath test machine cannot accurately determine whether the alcohol content on an individual's breath is an accurate reading or the product of the disease itself.

Inaccurate readings on breath test machines can also be caused by the inhalation and absorption of chemical fumes, such as those from paint, kerosene, fuel in any form, solvents or volatile chemicals. Even something as minor as cigarette smoke can throw off the machine. Any of these could lead to breath test contamination on a breath test.

Finally, the test may be skewed by the presence of additional foreign substances in the mouth of the individual providing the breath test. Tobacco smoke is a very common factor here, including cigarette smoke, as we previously mentioned, but chewing tobacco can also be a factor. An individual with a pocket of chewing tobacco in the front of their lip may cause breath test contamination when providing a sample. Finally, alcohol itself, whether regurgitated due to acid reflux disease, or simply the remnants of that final drink lingering in the mouth, could make the test results appear higher than they are in reality.

Does all of this mean that breath tests are useless? Not at all. Breath tests are administered every day across the state and they are later used by the state to secure convictions. At the same time, however, breath test contamination is a real possibility, and individuals who blow a test result above .08 should not immediately assume they are guilty of DWI based only on the results of the test. Instead, these individuals should contact an experienced DWI attorney who will take a comprehensive look at their case and all of its factors, including potential breath test contamination. A thorough examination of all the evidence is the best course of action to ensure that your best case is presented.

If you have been arrested for DWI and are concerned about breath test contamination, you need experienced legal counsel. Contact Attorney Eric J. Olson for vigorous defense and unrivaled results.

About the Author

Eric Olson

Eric J. Olson has dedicated his career exclusively to criminal law, with a focus onDWI defense. For the past 16 years, Mr. Olson has developed a reputation in the legal community as an aggressive, compassionate advocate for his clients.

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