Should I take police breathalyzer/blood test?

It is not uncommon for a person to have an alcoholic drink with dinner and to drive home safely. However, it is unusual for a person to consume several alcoholic drinks and be able to drive carefully. No matter the amount of alcohol consumed, a driver pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol will likely be asked to take a breathalyzer test. Understanding the implications of this test, as well as a driver’s rights when facing DUI charges, will make the choice of whether or not to take the breath test clearer.

The Effects of Alcohol

Many people wonder how many alcoholic drinks they can have before they are considered “legally drunk.” However, this is a nearly impossible question to answer definitively. Each person is decidedly unique in the way that he or she reacts to drinking. There are many different factors that can push a person over, the legal BAC limit:

  • Body height and weight
  • Gender
  • Body fat percentage
  • Eating or not eating while drinking
  • Taking medications

All states consider a person with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 legally intoxicated and unable to safely operate a motor vehicle.

One alcoholic drink typically consists of:

  • One 12-ounce beer
  • One 5-ounce glass of wine
  • One 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor

Of course, these amounts vary according to the aforementioned factors. For example, a 160-pound person with no other risk factors involved could have somewhere between three and four drinks in a relatively short period of time before hitting a BAC of .08, but that will vary among individuals even of the same weight.

The Breathalyzer and Blood Tests

When a person is pulled over and suspected of driving while intoxicated, the officer will typically request that the driver submit to three standard field sobriety tests that examine how the driver responds to coordination and concentration tasks. If the driver fails to properly complete these tasks, the breathalyzer will be used to reinforce the field sobriety tests’ findings. The BAC number is really used as a final piece of evidence in a DUI case.

The side-of-the-road breathalyzer is technically an alco-sensor that will give the officer a loose reading of the driver’s BAC. If this reading is within the range of impairment, the driver will be asked to go back to the police station for a more formal test.

Forced blood draws are the most accurate measure of a driver’s level of alcohol once that driver has been taken to the station. This gives a more precise amount of alcohol in the driver’s system. Sometimes urine samples are also collected. Alcohol in urine is always changing as more urine is constantly secreted and held in the bladder, mixing with older urine as well. For this reason, the driver may be asked to provide two urine samples approximately 20 minutes apart.

The Right of Refusal

A driver has the right to refuse a breathalyzer test. However, a person who applies for and receives a driver’s license is giving “implied consent.” In most states, this means that the driver is agreeing to take a breath test when an officer requests it; otherwise that driver faces a penalty that typically includes the loss of the license for a period of time specified by each state. For example, in New York and other states, drivers who refuse a breathalyzer test will lose their licenses for an entire year.

In addition, refusing to take the breathalyzer test does not protect the driver against arrest or DUI charges. Officers have the ability to use evidence from a physical examination, including the smell of alcohol, and the failure of field sobriety tests to bring these types of charges.

Refusing to take a breathalyzer test is a good idea when the driver knows that he or she is extremely intoxicated. Because some states include an aggravated DWI charge for BAC levels over .16, it may be a good idea to avoid providing a specific number if a driver realizes that he or she could potentially reach these levels. There are much more serious penalties for motorists who reach these levels and are thus charged with aggravated DWI.

Getting Legal Advice

A person who has been pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and subsequently charged may want to seek legal help from an experienced DUI lawyer. Defense counsel can determine whether or not the stop was lawful and the legal options that may be available, especially following a BAC test refusal.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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