Breath analysis is an old but widely used technique that law enforcement has used for decades to determine whether an individual’s blood alcohol content is within legal limits. The device that Minnesota had used since 1983 was called the Intoxilyzer. Over the course of the last 30 years, countless DWI cases have gone to court on the basis of results produced by some version of this device.
Discrepancies in Intoxilyzer results played a role in the adoption of a newer breath analysis device called the DataMaster DMT. Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) spent $1.7 million to acquire 280 new DataMaster DMT-G devices, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. These devices, made by Ohio company National Patent Analytical Systems, have been in use in Minnesota since 2011.
How the DataMaster DMT works
The DataMaster is designed to take two readings of a driver’s blood alcohol content at the same time, each reading using a different method. One method uses infrared light to measure BAC. The wavelengths of light are converted into an electrical signal that shows the concentration of alcohol in the breath, according to the DataMaster training manual used by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. The manual says that the device uses a proven method of absorbing infrared energy in its analysis, which guards against false positives and the interference from any compounds that could affect the results.
The other method uses a platinum fuel cell that reacts with alcohol in the breath to produce electricity; the power generated by this reaction is translated into a reading that shows the amount of alcohol in the sample. The DataMaster’s dual technology was expected to offer a higher level of scientific analysis, according to device’s maker.
Like the Intoxilyzer, the DataMaster tests a driver’s breath once they arrive at the police station, explains the Star Tribune. A different analyzer is used to test drivers out in the field. The test administered at the police station is the only test result admissible in court.
Inconsistencies in a testing method
The DataMaster was expected to be an improvement over the Intoxilyzer, a device whose accuracy was openly challenged in court. But DataMaster also faced accuracy questions. In 2012, inconsistencies led the BCA to shut off one of the DataMaster’s testing methods, according to the Star Tribune. The bureau shut off the fuel cell analysis part of the device until inconsistencies in the durability of those cells could be corrected. The bureau told the Star Tribune that shutting off the fuel cell part of the DataMaster would not affect its ability to analyze breath using the infrared light method.
One problem facing the DataMaster’s fuel cell technology is Minnesota’s cold weather. John Fusco, president of National Patent Analytical Systems, told the Star Tribune that fuel cell testing requires high humidity in order to it to maintain its sensitivity. Anyone who’s experienced a Minnesota winter knows that the cold dry winter air is devoid of humidity.
Datamaster: Intoxilyzer’s replacement
Intoxilyzer results started facing legal challenges in 2006, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The Minnesota Supreme Court had the final word on the matter, ruling in 2012 that the Intoxilyzer was reliable for testing the BAC of a person suspected of drunken driving. That decision meant that cases based on evidence gathered by the Intoxilyzer could go forward. But it had no bearing on the DataMaster; in 2012, the State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies started phasing out Intoxilyzers in favor of DataMasters.
DataMasters are more accurate than Intoxilyzers and that’s one of the main reasons that law enforcement has adopted this newer technology. But the accuracy and analysis problems that came with the fuel cell component of the device show that DataMasters are not flawless. If you face DWI charges based on evidence gathered from a DataMaster, contact us to learn more about your legal options.