The Ohio Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that defendants facing drunk driving charges can challenge the accuracy of their breathalyzer tests, potentially changing the outcome of thousands of cases throughout the state.
Defendants now will be allowed to challenge the information received from their tests by obtaining data from prior results generated by the alcohol tester into which they blew, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
The court's unanimous decision came as a result of a case in which a driver was arrested in Cincinnati in 2011 and was accused of having a blood-alcohol content of 0.143, nearly double the legal limit. A breath testing instrument called the Intoxilyzer 8000 was used to determine the amount.
The breath testing machine digitally sends information about the breathalyzer test to the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus and only reveals a portion of the information to the defendant and his or her attorney. The other information is concealed on a server in Columbus.
Ohio is an implied consent state, meaning when a person gets behind the wheel he or she is agreeing to allow police to perform a breathalyzer or another chemical test if arrested for a DUI/OVI. A person has a right to refuse, but he or she could face penalties.
When the Cincinnati driver attempted to obtain the additional breathalyzer data from the Ohio Department of Health, officials said the agency lacked the employees and technology to get the results, according to the ruling.
The Supreme Court upheld lower-court rulings dismissing the DUI case because health officials failed to turn over the data in response to a subpoena. The court also ruled the approval of the machine does not prevent an accused from challenging its results.
Ohio law prohibits drivers from challenging the general reliability of state-approved testing machines, but according to the ruling, it does not prevent a driver from challenging the reliability of a specific machine at the time of the alleged offense.
For example, a driver in Ohio cannot challenge the Intoxilyzer 8000 as a reliable machine. However, the person can claim the particular device used in his or her test may have malfunctioned at the time of the chemical test, even if he or she consented to it being performed.
There are many aspects of the chemical testing process during a suspected DUI/OVI traffic stop that could be argued as ineffective or improperly implemented. The breathalyzer machine has a small margin of error and could be affected by things such as temperature and medical conditions.
Breathalyzer test cases are very scientific and complicated. Errors in DUI/OVI chemical testing can be used to weaken the prosecution's case. If facing DUI charges, it is important to have an attorney who understands the science behind breathalyzer testing.
Read the Ohio Supreme Court ruling here.