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Chemical breath tests, also commonly called Breathalyzer systems, help law enforcement officers, school administrators, probation/parole officers and even parents determine if someone is likely under the influence of alcohol.

The test helps determine alcohol-related impairment by isolating certain compounds in someone’s breath and providing police with a likely blood alcohol content based on their breath. Many people think of breath tests as infallible, but the truth is that they can and do return false negative and false positive results, which can leave innocent people vulnerable to drunk driving criminal charges.

Sometimes, those test results stem from the presence of a similar chemical in the body of the person performing the test. Other times, issues with the testing unit or mistakes by the person administering the test can result in inaccurate results.

Individual test units require regular maintenance

In order to accurately identify chemical compounds, a breath test unit needs routine calibration. Otherwise, after frequent use or prolonged periods of disuse, it may produce inaccurate results.

Additionally, individual testing units may occasionally need to download software patches and updates. When officers fail to calibrate a breath test unit or don’t upgrade the software, the results that the unit produces may not be reliable or accurate.

Officers can make mistakes while administering tests

Even when a department makes sure to calibrate and maintain units properly, the officer may not perform the test properly. In some cases, the officer may not even have had formal training on the proper use of the system.

Determining whether the officer has up-to-date training and if the unit was in serviceable condition at the time of the test can often be a first step toward establishing a defense strategy to impaired driving charges.