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Will Law Enforcement Soon Use Breath Tests for Drug Use?

Breath test devices are notoriously unreliable. They are consistently challenged in court cases involving individuals suspected of driving under the influence (DUI). Even so, American law enforcement officials may soon embrace a newly created breath device that allegedly detects a dozen different kinds of controlled substance use. If so, breath test challenges could soon become a fixture of cases involving drug offenses as well as DUI offenses.

The drug breath test device was designed in Sweden and is so far only in the testing phase. According to a study recently published in the Journal of Breath Research, the device can detect several illegal substances. The test can allegedly detect traces of morphine, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, among others. In each of the test cases, drugs were detected 24 hours after the user had last sampled them.

This high detection capability is cause for alarm rather than celebration. If the application of this device was used in suspected drugged driving cases for example, individuals who had smoked marijuana 24 hours prior and were no longer any danger to their fellow motorists could be brought up on serious DUI charges.

According to the study, the new test detects drugs accurately in 87 percent of cases, but it is unclear what the device's false positive rate is. In addition, without a more sensitive detection capability, the device could lead to DUI convictions and drug use consequences for individuals who no longer pose a threat to others as a result of use.

While these tests may someday benefit employers who routinely drug test their employees, use in a criminal law context must be approached very carefully. Failure to ensure proper safeguards could lead to unjust and generally unwarranted convictions.

Source: The Inquisitr, "New Breathalyzer Test Detects Drugs Too," Apr. 28, 2013

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