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South Carolina DUI case dismissed because of botched breath test

One of the common themes on our blog is the requirement of police to conduct their investigation in an appropriate manner. In the absence of upholding such standards, a defendant in a criminal case could see their case dropped; or, at the very least, some evidence could be deemed inadmissible.

Procedural perfection is expected of all law enforcement agencies, and any deviation from that could result in a dismissed case. Nothing highlights this fact more than a drunk driving case out of Columbia, South Carolina, which saw the case against the defendant dropped because of a procedural mistake by the arresting officer while administering the breath test.

The accused man was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. When the officer pulled him over, he gave the man a breath test -- and he instructed the man to "blow hard," seemingly to ensure that the equipment would get a proper reading of the man's breath.

However, the phrasing "blow hard" is actually not allowed by officers administering a breath test. The reason for this is that the machine may misinterpret a person's blood alcohol level depending on the breath pacing. Testimony from an "expert witness" in this case stated that, yes, a person's BAC could be altered because they are instructed to exhale stronger than they normally would.

As a result, the case against the man was dismissed because his blood alcohol level was inadmissible.

This story raises all sorts of questions about police procedures -- but it also highlights the relative ineffectiveness (or, maybe more appropriately, the questionable nature) of breath test equipment. If deviations in a person's breathing pattern can alter a BAC reading, then the consistency and reliability of the process comes into question.

Source: The State, "Breath test thrown out in Columbia DUI," March 12, 2013

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