Thousands of Drunk Driving Convictions May Be Thrown Out After Flaw Found in Breathalyzer Software

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Thousands of drunk drivers have been placed behind bars after it was determined that they were driving while under the influence. Many of those arrests were due, in part, to the results from a breathalyzer, a tool routinely used to measure a person’s level of intoxication. However, new research shows that the breathalyzer’s source code may be faulty after tests showed false positive results when tested in the field.

The breathalyzer is used on a daily basis by law enforcement. Defense attorneys have long argued that there were flaws in the equipment used during traffic stops, and they may finally have support for their argument.

According to CBS News, breathalyzers use two sensors to determine if someone is under the influence: an infrared light to determine that the individual is actually breathing into the device, and a fuel cell to determine how much alcohol is in someone’s system.

A Washington defense lawyer, Jason Lantz, hired software engineers to look over the software code that breathalyzers across the United States use to see if a false reading could be produced. During a conference for Lantz, the engineers explained their findings, which concluded that a false test was highly possible.

In light of the engineer’s findings, Draeger, a German medical company that mass produces the breathalyzer used in the states, threatened to sue Lantz and the engineers if they divulged any of the information they found to the public.

“Pursuant to a protective order, Draeger provided the source code to both of the defense experts in Snohomish County,” a spokesperson for Draeger said. “That source code is highly proprietary and it was important to Draeger that the protective order limit its use to the purposes of the litigation at issue.”

The German company argued that they were not trying to hide evidence of faulty equipment, rather that they were instead protecting the coding used to make their product.

It’s important to note that these tests were conducted on only a binary version of the source code and were not tested on an actual breathalyzer. Researchers found that inflated readings were more prominent than they had originally thought.

Another attorney who saw the report claimed breathalyzers “tipped the scale” in favor of prosecutors. If this research proves to be true, thousands of DUI convictions could be overturned if a false reading was suspected in their case.