Smokeless Tobacco Chemicals May Give False Positives on DUI Tests


In a time when awareness of the dangers of drunk driving is increasing and penalties for DUI crimes are becoming stricter, it's important to understand exactly what can land you a DUI arrest and conviction. And it's also crucial to know what can result in a "false positive" on a sobriety test.

In most states, driving under the influence of alcohol is a crime. Typically, the legal blood alcohol content(BAC) is .08%. That means that if you're pulled over and given an alcohol breath test that registers .08% BAC or higher, you could be arrested.

The technology that allows for an instantaneous reading is invaluable to police officers, who, prior to breathalyzer tests, had to rely solely on field sobriety tests, which are not as accurate. Unfortunately, like any piece of technology, breathalyzer tests can malfunction and give inaccurate readings. Knowing what causes these reasons could be crucial if you've been affected.

Reports this week have highlighted the case of a man who was arrested for DUI after giving a breathalyzer reading of .20% BAC-well over the legal limit. But the jury acquitted him of all charges because of what was almost certainly a false positive reading.

The breathalyzer used on the defendant was called the Intoximeter 3000, an instrument that is allegedly capable of indicating when it cannot function properly. The T-Cell feature of the Intoximeter is designed to recognize the presence of any chemicals other than alcohol that might give a false reading. If it senses these chemicals, it displays a message and shuts down.

Apparently, this doesn't always happen.

In this particular case, the man pulled over was a building contractor. Reports indicate that there was evidence of paint on his car and that he himself claimed to have worked with paint and paint thinner throughout the day. Both of these substances have been known to give "false positive" readings on Intoximeters.

Additionally, a coworker reportedly testified that he had been in the defendant's company during the entire work day, and had not seen him drink at all. The defendant was pulled over at 6:32, only about an hour and a half after he finished work, according to reports.

Besides this evidence, the defendant was apparently chewing tobacco when he blew into the breath tester. Officials have reportedly recognized the potential for chemicals in smokeless tobacco to give false positive readings, and have trained officers not to administer tests with the Intoximeter 3000 to subjects chewing tobacco.

So what does this mean for you? Obviously, it's never a good idea to drink and drive. But if you've been arrested for DUI and you think one of these "false positive" factors may have contributed to your arrest, you may want to talk to your lawyer.

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