Other Countries Attack Breathalyzer Results - Will Us Queue Up, Too? - Sparrow Law Firm

Drivers accused of DWI are often prosecuted on the basis of breathalyzer test results that purport to measure their level of alcohol consumption. Yet these machines can be inaccurate and produce false readings for a variety of reasons — something far too many drivers in North Carolina are familiar with.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in reviewing the provisions of that country’s law concerning driving while intoxicated, delved into this issue among other things. And while the ruling is clearly not applicable in Raleigh, the reasoning could be persuasive, since the problem is the same — equipment giving questionable test results.

The court ruled against portions of the law that mandated that criminal defendants in a drunk driving case prove in detail exactly how the breathalyzer failed to work properly, resulting in false indications of intoxication. Instead, the 5-2 majority of the court found, the defendant was required to meet a much lower burden of showing either that police did not properly operate the equipment or that the machine itself simply malfunctioned. The burden then shifts to the prosecution to try to prove that the results could still be correct.

The court therefore ruled that the portion of the law that it found improper would no longer apply, while it upheld other provisions of Canada’s tough drunk driving law. The ruling will give defense lawyers there additional ways to challenge questionable breathalyzer test results without having to pinpoint precisely why the machine malfunctioned.

The judges reasoned that the current law’s apparent assumption that the equipment was almost infallible was wrong. One defense lawyer predicted that the decision would require police in more cases to bring into evidence maintenance records to try to show that some effort was made to keep the breathalyzer working properly. Details about the background and training of those operating the equipment may also be called upon.

Source: The Globe and Mail, “Supreme Court upholds guts of drunk-driving law,” Kirk Makin, Nov. 2, 2012

We help people who have been charged with DWI based on questionable breathalyzer results, similar to the situations discussed above. If you are interested in learning more about our Raleigh-based practice, please visit the North Carolina Drunk Driving Defense page of our website.