Recently in New Zealand, a suspected drunk driver was given a breathalyzer test. He failed. But this isn’t the news.
What’s news about it is the defense his lawyer is considering, since she says the test results don’t accurately reflect how much her client drank. What skewed them? His lawyer is blaming it on…his dentures.
Sounds far-fetched, no? Yet New Zealand forensic science consultant Dr. Anna Sandiford argues that it’s entirely in the realm of possibility. On her blog, she explains how “alcohol can become lodged under the plate of dentures and remain there as a ‘reservoir’, with alcohol fumes evaporating into the mouth cavity over a period of time.” A testing device would measure that vapor, not that from the base of the lungs (the norm). Conceivably, alcohol could pool in other dental devices, as well.
That said, the effect of harbored alcohol doesn’t last especially long.
In countries overseas, there is a mandatory stand-down period between the time that a person is asked by Police to provide a breath alcohol sample to an evidential tesing device and the time that they actually provide that sample. The reason for this is to allow any potential mouth alcohol effects (not just relating to dentures) to dissipate. However, New Zealand does not have such a mandatory stand-down period. The chances of a mouth alcohol effect therefore increase.
In these situations, knowing the case circumstances and timeline is vital – a copy of the breath testing printout should also provide some clues as to whether a mouth alcohol effect could have adversely affected a breath alcohol reading. If the breath reading is not reliable then it should not be accepted in court.
Image by xcode, via Flickr