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DUI defendants challenge reliability of breath test device

Technology is a wonderful thing, when it works right. The problem is that too often the computer-based machines we depend on to provide us with accurate information deliver bad results. If those numbers become the basis for a criminal charge, such as driving under the influence, the consequences can be devastating.

That being the case, it's always legitimate to question whether the state has completely met all the standards required to validate that the test results being used as evidence are reliable. 

In Tennessee, a breath test might be deemed invalid for a lot of different reasons, including if it wasn't administered in keeping with rules set by the state's Bureau of Investigation. If the official doing the test wasn't properly certified, that can cause results to be questioned. Perhaps most important question may be whether the software of the device used was up to date and certified as such.

That's a question that is being posed to the New Jersey State Supreme Court right now. Attorneys who represent defendants charged with DUI are suing to end the use of the Alcotest breath test machine.

They argue that software changes that the Supreme Court ordered to be made in the devices back in 2008 have never been done. They also argue that versions of the device that are currently used by law enforcement are shy of software coding that is included in newer devices the state has yet to distribute.

The attorneys call that a tacit admission that current devices are lacking in reliability and they ask that results be suppressed as evidence.

The state attorney general's office calls the remedy recommended by the defense attorneys extreme and unwarranted. But a representative arguing before the court didn't appear to fully address the plaintiff's claims about out of date software.

A decision isn't expected for several months.

Source: CourierPostOnline.com, "Breath test's validity at issue in N.J.," David Porter, Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2013

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