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First impression case on mouthpieces as 'foreign substance'

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In a matter of first impression, a portable breath test mouthpiece isn’t a foreign substance that will act to invalidate the results of a blood alcohol content Datamaster chemical breath test, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

In State of Indiana v. James G. Lucas, No. 91A05-1003-CR-247, James Lucas argued his Datamaster results were invalid because he was given two portable breath tests within less than 20 minutes after being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. He argued that the mouthpiece used to administer the portable breath test was a “foreign substance” for purposes of chemical breath test regulations. The trial court granted his motion to suppress.

The procedures for administering a breath test using a B.A.C. Datamaster say a person must not have had any foreign substance in his mouth or respiratory tract within 20 minutes before the time a breath sample is given.

The appellate judges rejected that argument and reversed the motion to suppress. They relied on neighboring provisions within the Datamaster regulations that state if the test displays certain errors after giving a breath sample, the test should be repeated once the green LED light on the instrument is glowing. The 20-minute delay isn’t required, and under these circumstances, the test subject would have had an initial mouthpiece placed in his mouth in less than 20 minutes. This doesn’t invalidate the final result, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

If the Datamaster mouthpiece isn’t considered a foreign substance, then the mouthpiece of the PBT shouldn’t be either.

“We acknowledge that PBTs and Datamasters are separate and distinct devices. Moreover, PBTs are less sophisticated than Datamasters and are not subject to certification by the State toxicology department. But PBTs are still recognized as standard breath testing instruments. The Indiana Code expressly sanctions their use by law enforcement and mandates their use in certain circumstances — even in tandem with chemical breath tests. Officer Stinson’s testimony further indicates that customary measures are observed to ensure that PBT mouthpieces are legitimate and uncontaminated,” she wrote.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

 

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