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Breath testing for alcoholics can provide inflated results

Posted by Craig Penrod | Jan 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Breath testing machines don't actually measure alcohol, but are designed to detect and measure any chemical compound that has the methyl group with in its molecular structure. Thus, it's reasonable to find that in persons who are addicted to alcohol and have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) will register higher blood-alcohol readings when they are tested.

An inconvenient truth that some law enforcement agencies are discovering is that alcoholics may have higher blood-alcohol readings simply because they are addicted to alcohol, not because they have higher levels of alcohol in their systems, because their physiology is different in some important respects. In Tempe, Phoenix or other communities in Maricopa County, it is important that you consult experienced Arizona DUI lawyers like those associated with the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C.

Most breath testing machines used by law enforcement officers to investigate possible DUI cases use a technology called infrared spectroscopy. The DUI suspect is required to breath through a tube connected to the machine allowing a breath sample to be captured within a small sample chamber. At that point, beams of infrared energy are projected through the captured breath sample. Should there be any compounds, which contain the methyl group in the captured breath sample, some of the infrared energy will be absorbed. The more of the chemical compound contained within the breath sample, the higher level of the energy will be absorbed. That means that less infrared energy will reach sensors at the other end of the sample chamber. The fact that less energy being detected by the sensors will mean a higher the BAC reading will be registered.

The obvious problem is that the design of the breath testing machine is to simply assume that the chemical compound absorbing the infrared energy is alcohol, thus a falsely high BAC test result will be reported. Should there be two or three such compounds within the breath if the person tested, the machine will read a cumulative result and falsely report the total as a high BAC.

The physiology of the bodies of alcoholics can produce more acetaldehyde, a compound that is produced in small amounts in their liver as a by-product of the metabolism of alcohol. If there is alcohol in the lungs of an alcoholic it can metabolize there as well as in the liver, thus producing acetaldehyde which can remeasured by a breath testing apparatus.

It's reasonable to assume that the amount of acetaldehyde produced in the lungs of an alcoholic and then be detected by a breathalyzer varies from person to person. In a study focusing on alcoholics, researchers have discovered that the amount of acetaldehyde in the breath and blood of alcoholics was between five and 55 times higher than the amount found in the systems of nonalcoholics. End result is that breathalyzers are not able tell the difference between alcohol and acetaldehyde, thus alcoholics will usually have false, higher blood alcohol readings.

There are several types of compounds that may be on a person's breath that can cause false BAC readings in a DUI case. A study focusing on eight men found 69 different compounds containing the methyl group. Another study involving 28 persons showed that combined expired air comprises at least 102 various organic compounds of endogenous and exogenous origin. Also, diabetics with low blood sugar can have high levels of acetone, which can be read as alcohol by breath testing machines. And, scientific studies have found that people on diets can have reduced blood-sugar levels, causing acetone hundreds of times higher than found in normal individuals.

The breath testing results for a smoker can produce a result that is likely to be higher than expected. The compound acetaldehyde, reported by the as alcohol, is produced in the human body as a by-product in metabolizing consumed alcohol and eventually passes into the lungs and breath. Plus, researchers have discovered that levels of acetaldehyde in the lungs can read as being 30 times higher in smokers than in non-smokers.

Industrial compounds, such as paint, glue, gasoline, thinners, and other compounds contain the methyl group and simply the act of absorbing it through your skin or inhaling the fumes can result in significant levels of the chemical in your body for hours or even days and can be read by a breath testing machine.

Some law enforcement officials say that this is not a problem, claiming that levels of the compound would have to be at toxic levels to raise a breath test result to 0.08 percent or higher. These officials are displaying their ignorance of the science involved.

It is important that your DUI legal situation should be handled by expert professionals with the experience possessed by the attorneys at the Law Offices of Craig W. Penrod, P.C. Our office offers free consultations for all DUI and criminal matters. Our Arizona DUI attorneys and Arizona criminal lawyers can provide you with the experience and knowledge needed for qualified representation. An experienced Arizona DUI lawyer is vital in DUI cases and our DUI attorneys set that standard. If you're in need of a criminal defense, our Arizona criminal attorneys are ready to assist you.

About the Author

Craig Penrod

Craig W. Penrod was born and raised in Arizona and has practiced criminal defense for over 30 years. Mr. Penrod is a member of the State Bar of Arizona, Maricopa County Bar Association, State of Nevada Bar Association, American Bar Association, American Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Trial Lawyers Association, Nevada Trial Lawyers Association, Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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