Breathalyzers aren't as reliable as you think, Minnesota attorney says

Police officers use the Datamaster to conduct tens of thousands of breath tests every year. But a Minnesota attorney says the breathalyzers aren't as reliable as you might think.

"This judge recognized that these breathalyzers are reporting results higher than what it actually measures," attorney Charles Ramsay said.

Ramsay said that last week a Hennepin County judge reduced the amount of time his client's license should be revoked for a DWI arrest from one year to one month.

According to Ramsay, the Datamaster reported the woman's blood alcohol concentration was .16, which is twice the legal limit to drive, but raw data showed her BAC was actually .159, which doesn't cross the threshold to make it a gross misdemeanor with harsher penalties and fines.

"She recognizes she made mistakes. But she shouldn't be punished more than what is required under the circumstances," Ramsay said.

Ramsay said it's not clear what is causing the Datamasters to apparently round up the blood alcohol concentration numbers they report. But he says it could affect up to 10 percent of the 24,000 breath tests conducted in Minnesota every year that are close to .08 or .16.

Those two numbers are important because that's when driving impaired jumps to either a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor.

"Many people who pleaded guilty because of what that instrument reported are not," Ramsay said. "It takes innocent people and makes them criminals. That's why its a big deal."

Ramsay wants the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to pull the state's 280 Datamasters out of service, figure out what the problem is, and fix them.