The role of breathalyzers in New York DWI cases

New York DWI cases

If you are pulled over in New York and an officer suspects you of driving under the influence of alcohol, you will likely be asked to take a breath test. It is therefore a good idea to understand the role that a breathalyzer test plays and how to protect your rights from being violated if you are suspected of drunk driving.

The consequences of a DWI conviction

The penalties for a DWI conviction in New York can be very severe. Unlike with some other crimes, the state does not allow defendants to make a plea deals in order to avoid drunk driving charges or convictions.

The potential sentences vary, depending on the details of the offense at issue. Most people can expect to face potential fines, jail time, and either license suspension or revocation. For example, a first conviction for driving with a blood alcohol content above 0.08 but below 0.18 could result a six month license revocation, up to a year in jail and a fine between $500 and $1,000.

Individuals charged with aggravated DWI or a second or multiple DWI face more severe penalties. For example, a person arrested and convicted for a third time on an aggravated DWI faces up to a $10,000 fine, an 18-month license revocation and seven years of incarceration. Aggravated DWI is generally defined as having a blood alcohol content of 0.18 or higher.

Individuals who cause death or injury as a result of driving under the influence can face felony charges.

How breath testing is used

Breathalyzers, Intoxilyzers and other breath-testing devices are designed to provide an estimate of a suspected drunk driver’s blood alcohol content. While testing a blood sample provides the most accurate evidence of a suspect’s blood alcohol content, breath testing tends to be easier for officers to use.

However, there has been a lot of controversy over the accuracy of breath tests. A number of studies have shown that breath tests can falsely label people as intoxicated. In one study cited in an article by a professor at the State University of New York, a person spent an hour using paint and contact cement, and was then given a breath test. While the person had not touched any liquor, the tester showed him to be over the legal limit, mistaking the fumes that the person breathed in from the paint and cement for alcohol.

Other tests have shown that a breathalyzer can give inaccurate readings based on a number of outside factors including the following:

  • Temperature
  • Gasoline
  • Electrical equipment such as police radios and cell phones
  • Cleaning liquids
  • Blood in the person’s mouth from dental work or a cut lip
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Burping or vomiting prior to the test

With so many outside influences that can create an inaccurate reading, it is no surprise that so many people are questioning the validity alcohol breath testing.

Objecting to a breathalyzer

The issue also shows the importance of working with an experienced defense attorney after being accused of driving under the influence. The attorney will be able to evaluate the circumstances of the case and advise on all possible avenues of defense. If appropriate, the attorney can challenge the admission of potentially-faulty breath test evidence.


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