The term DUI refers to the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In most states, it is considered a criminal offense. Some jurisdictions refer to the crime as a DWI, which stands for driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. The acronym, DWI, can also mean driving while intoxicated, also known as drunk driving.
While the nuances to a DUI or a DWI may vary from state-to-state, they essentially encompass the same offense: it is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
What is a Breathalyzer Test?
A Breathalyzer is a common breath testing device that can detect whether alcohol is present in a person’s system. Someone suspected of drinking and driving may be asked by law enforcement to take a Breathalyzer test. They are instructed to exhale into the mouthpiece of the device.
If ethanol, which is the intoxicating ingredient in alcohol, is present in the individual’s breath, the device detects it through a chemical reaction and changes color from red to green. The device, as well as similar breath testing devices, can calibrate the change in color and translate this change to a blood alcohol content (BAC) number. A reading with a BAC of 0.08% or higher is considered legally impaired in most of the United States.
Are Breath Tests Accurate?
Police officers across the country often administer breath tests to individuals they pull over on the road and suspect that they may be driving under the influence. The breath test measures the driver’s BAC to gauge intoxication. The results of a breath test, however, may not always give an accurate measure of whether an individual is in fact intoxicated.
Urine and blood tests are other chemical tests that can give a read on a person’s BAC. While urine and blood tests are typically more reliable than breath tests to show a person’s BAC, they are not as practical to administer during a traffic stop.
What are the Issues With Breath Tests?
Because Breathalyzer-type devices are not as reliable as other tests, the validity of the results from the breath tests come into question.
Some of the issues with breath tests include the following:
- The measurement of alcohol levels in the blood versus the measurement of concentrated alcohol in a breath sample are disproportionate and therefore results from the breath tests can be unreliable;
- Machine calibration efforts are often insufficient to ensure accuracy in the performance of the breath test machines; and
- Factors, such as the presence of vomit in the mouth or cell phone interference, can affect the BAC reading by inaccurately raising the figure.
What are Some Defenses to DUI?
There are several defenses available to those charged with a DUI. Affirmative defenses are rare, but possible. These types of defenses basically explain to the court the necessity behind the offense.
Affirmative defenses for a DUI can include:
- Duress – driving under the influence in order to avoid harm or death;
- Involuntary Intoxication – occurs when a person did not know they were drinking alcohol and presumed themselves to be in a sound condition to drive;
- Mistake of Fact – when an individual truly believed themselves to be sober and fit to drive; and
- Necessity -this happens if an individual must drive in order to avoid a worse scenario.
More common defenses focus on whether proper procedures were followed by law enforcement officials and/or whether faulty equipment may have been used during the arrest.
These defenses can include:
- Improper Stop – the reason that the person was pulled over to begin with was illegal and thus the DUI may not stand in a court of law;
- Inaccurate BAC Reading – if it can be proven that faulty or improperly used equipment was part of the prosecution’s case, it can potentially dismiss the case against the defendant;
- Questionable Chain of Custody for Blood or Urine Test – law enforcement officials must take steps to make sure that blood or urine samples are properly handled, if the defendant can show otherwise, the case may be dismissed; and
- Rising BAC – the premise behind this defense is that the defendant was in the legal range for driving when they were pulled over, however, a delay in testing opens up the possibility of the blood alcohol levels in the defendant’s body to rise over time.
Do I Need an Attorney for Help With Breathalyzer Issues?
A DUI arrest is a serious offense that can involve severe, life-changing consequences. Penalties for a DUI can include monetary fines, the loss of driving privileges and/or a prison sentence. If you or someone you know received a DUI, it is imperative to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable DUI criminal defense attorney.
The legal issues surrounding a DUI case varies from client-to-client. A skilled DUI attorney understands the complexities of DUI matters and handles each case in an individualized fashion. A DUI attorney can assist you with all aspects of the case and help achieve the best possible outcome.