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Is a “breathalyzer” really a breathalyzer?

On Behalf of | Sep 5, 2018 | Drunk Driving

Were someone to ask you what a breathalyzer was, you would likely immediately assume it to be the hand-held devices that law enforcement officials use to conduct breath tests on the side of the road. This assumption contributes to the confusion on the issue of whether or not you are in your rights to refuse a breath test. In reality, an actual breathalyzer is the machine used to conduct a chemical assessment of the alcohol content of your breath. These are typically found in police stations. What, then, it the device that an officer may ask you to blow into when you are pulled over? 

These are actually referred to as portable breath testers or passive alcohol sensors, and the results they generate are known as preliminary alcohol screenings. Such a test differs from an actual breathalyzer test in that the conditions in which it is given can influence its outcomes. External factors that can influence preliminary alcohol screenings include: 

  • Air temperature 
  • Humidity 
  • Radio frequency interference 

Because of the potential for inaccuracy, the results of preliminary alcohol screenings cannot be admissible as evidence at a criminal trial. They can, however, provide authorities with cause to detain you. Once that happens, you may then be asked to take a chemical breath test, which is required due to the state’s implied consent law. 

Per Section 327.355 of Florida’s state statutes, a preliminary alcohol screening be admitted as evidence when dealing with noncriminal infractions. Thus, while the court cannot use it to assign guilt to you, your employer or the professional organizations with whom you share an affiliation can. Said organizations may use these tests results to suspend your certification. The Department of Motor Vehicles can also cite it in a hearing to suspend or revoke your license.