Procedures for Taking Breath Samples

NJ DWI Defense Attorneys

New Jersey law, as well as the manufacturer’s operations manual for the breath test, establish set guidelines that must be followed by police for BAC results to be valid in court. If the police forget a step or deviate from the the legally approved procedure, the related readings cannot be used against a motorist. This is where an attorney highly knowledgeable and experienced with the breathalyzer can prove invaluable. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall possess this level of expertise and, in fact, include 5 of the approximately 50 Alcotest certified attorneys in NJ. The team also includes at least four (4) former driving while intoxicated prosecutors who have seen how things really work from the other side. The following is a discussion of some of the more important procedures and steps that must be followed by police in order for breath test results to be valid.

Pre-Test Protocol

Before the test can be administered, the suspect must be observed for a twenty-minute period. The reasons for this seemingly arbitrary waiting period is so that law enforcement officials can be certain that the suspect has not ingested anything to distort a true breath sample. The twenty minute observation also insures that the person does not regurgitate anything, voluntarily or involuntarily, that would throw off the BAC sample and test readings. The observer must conduct a continuous and uninterrupted twenty minutes of observation immediately prior to the breath reading as required by the specifications for proper operation of the Alcotest. This person does not necessarily have to be the operator of the test, but the person must watch the suspect for a whole twenty-minute period and, if something should be swallowed, ingested, or the watcher leaves the room for any reason, the twenty-minute period must start all over again or the breath sample is invalid. Following the twenty-minute period of observation, the machine must be calibrated by a Blank Air Test. This consists of two phases, the first could best be described as the warming-up phase. It consists of turning the machine on and making sure that the machine gets up to somewhere close to 34 degrees Celsius. The way this is done is that a solution is used that simulates the temperature of the human breath. It is sent through the machine to establish a baseline and once this is completed, the room’s air is sent through the machine to wipe away any traces of the solution.

Test Procedure

Before the test can be started, a new mouthpiece must be placed on the Alcotest device. This is true for every sample that is collected; a mouthpiece is to be inserted every time an individual blows into the machine or the related reading is inadmissible. Two other procedural checks should be underaken — the room should be cleared of all electronic devices, including cellphones, and the machine should be set up to go through 11 samples in one cycle. If two good samples cannot be collected despite 11 tries without an error reading, a refusal will typically be issued. The test is run by a software called Firmware 3.11 and has four requirements to establish an accurate reading:

  1. Breath air volume of at least 1.5 liters;
  2. Blow duration of at least 4.5 seconds;
  3. Flow rate of air of at least 2.5 L/min; and
  4. Infrared measurement reaches its plateau point.

If all of these requirements are not met, the machine will alert the operator to an error and a result will not be recorded. Assuming two valid readings are registered by the breathalyzer, a computation must be conducted to insure that the blood alcohol readings are within tolerance.

The aforesaid procedures and steps are not fully comprehensive but are intended to give readers a working knowledge of what police are required to do in order for breath test BAC results to be used in court. Our lawyers have considerable experience in all phases of breathalyzer compliance and are ready to analyze the facts of your case. Initial consultations with the attorneys on our staff are always without charge, so do not hesitate to give us a call.