Florida DUI Breathalyzer Results Raise Accuracy Questions

The issue of the accuracy of breathalyzers in Florida is once again being raised with the recent arrest of a woman whose blood-alcohol level might suggest that she should have been in a coma.
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Our Fort Lauderdale DUI defense lawyers know that this is just the latest in a long line of cases raising serious doubt about whether breathalyzers are in fact an effective measure for determining one’s true level of intoxication.

According to media reports, the defendant, from North Florida, was stopped after reportedly running off the road on a Wednesday evening. At the time, she admitted to deputies that she had been drinking. But said she “felt fine” and consented to undergoing several field sobriety tests.

She allegedly failed those tests, and was subsequently given a breathalyzer test. That test revealed her blood-alcohol level to be at 0.41 percent. That is five times the legal limit, which in Florida (and currently every other state) is 0.08 percent.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office, where this incident occurred, said such a reading is so rare, it happened only one other time in the county last year.

Even a spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen “a 4,” adding, “that’s high.”

So high, in fact, that by some accounts, an individual with that high of a reading should be either in a coma or dead.

According to LifeLoc Technologies, a commercial retailer of various alcohol and drug screening devices, a blood-alcohol level of between 0.30 and 0.40 is “extremely life-threatening.” Individuals may have little to know idea of where they are, may be at risk of suddenly losing consciousness or even falling into a coma. It’s considered the same level of intoxication as surgical anesthesia and death is possible.

Most people who register a 0.45 percent BAC or higher will die.

And yet, here was this woman, a 33-year-old dental hygienist, who is not only walking and talking but communicating with officers in a way that makes sense. She was described as being unsteady on her feet and “somewhat disoriented.” However, she knew enough to ask a number of times whether she would be going to jail. She told the officer she had a drinking problem.

She was transported to a local hospital, where she was medically cleared before being booked into the Marion County Jail.

Even absent the breathalyzer test, prosecutors in this particular case might have enough to secure a conviction for DUI. However, given the fact that Florida law permits advanced penalties for individuals who register a blood-alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher, the degree of intoxication is still important in these cases.

Florida Statute 316.193, a person whose BAC is 0.15 percent or higher faces a fine of up to $2,000 (as opposed to $1,000 for those under that reading) and jail time of up to 9 months, as opposed to the six months they might otherwise receive.

Yet it’s been widely known since as far back as the mid-1980s that these machines can return inflated results and might be influenced by factors such as foreign substances, illness, improper calibration/administration, software, consistency and certain environmental factors.

If you’ve been arrested for DUI, call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. The Ansara Law Firm serves Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Woman gets DUI after blowing 5 times legal limit, Sept. 20, 2013, By Henry Pierson Curtis, Orlando Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Palm Beach DUI Manslaughter Charges Facing Teen, July 15, 2013, Broward DUI Defense Lawyer Blog