Sunday, December 5, 2010

Beating the Box or Breath Test Issues in a Nutshell

Winter in Ithaca, NY has finally arrived. Today it is 6 degrees with the windchill, yow! What's funny about that is by Ithaca Winter standards that is still fairly warm. I had a friend of mine visit one winter from Greece, and of course the day he came it was well below zero with the wind. He thought we were crazy to live here. He made it about 15 minutes outside before his breathing became labored and he started to look a bit pee kid.

Anyway, "THE" box, the definite article for sure. The box refers of course to the breathalyzer, aka the breath test, aka the Datamaster (the machine preference of City, Village, and Town Police), aka The Chemical test, aka The Alcotest (the machine preferred by NYS Troopers).

The Box provides a fast, easy, and cheap means to test the breath to indirectly compute a BAC (blood alcohol concentration). We can argue all day about: fast, cheap, easy, and indirect testing. The box is Not to be confused with the field breath test, called the alcosensor, done at roadside, and not admissible in NYS for a BAC result but merely to prove the consumption of alcohol.

There are Three main problem areas in Breath Testing:

1. problem with the person: medications, diseases of the lungs, ie. asthma, COPDs, allergies, diabetes, GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease), is it stomach contents, etc.

2. problem with the machine: out of calibration, simulator/reference solution has bad chemicals (out of date), broken parts, maintenance issues, temperature issues, etc.

3. problem with the operator: did not follow protocols, did not do proper observation prior to testing, used radio, phone, or beeper in room (Radio frequency Interference), did not check mouth for foreign substances, dentures, etc.

Is the BAC machine result reliable? Can the jury rely upon it?

Is the BAC machine result accurate? Is it a real number of the person's BAC?

Another potential issue:

TIMING: Is the machine BAC result (Post driving) a true measure of the BAC at the time of driving?

The idea of arguing that breath testing "in general" is bad, is inaccurate, and is unreliable is usually not the best approach. Juries want to have a "specific" reason or reasons why something like a breath test result in a specific case/situation is not to be trusted.

Beating the BOX then becomes a reality. Because in the end, the jurors should only follow and apply ONE presumption at trial, the POI (presumption of innocence). The government must prove their case, including the BAC result to the BRD standard (Beyond a Reasonable Doubt).