If I Took a DUI Chemical Test, Am I Automatically Guilty?
According to the way the law is written, the answer to this question is “yes.” Like most other states, Florida has a per se DUI law. Defendants who have an alcohol concentration above .08 in their blood or breath are “impaired” as a matter of law.
But as a practical matter, the answer to this question is “no.” If police officers make procedural mistakes, the breath or blood test may be inadmissible in court. Furthermore, the Breathalyzer is based on technology from the 1930s. This aging device has a number of technical flaws which cannot be corrected.
If a Tampa DUI attorney can create a reasonable doubt as to the chemical result evidence, the defendant should be found not guilty of the charged offense.
Chemical Tests and Procedural Issues
Police officers must have probable cause before they ask the defendant to provide a breath or blood sample. If the defendant clearly failed at least one field sobriety test, like the walking-a-straight-line test, probable cause is usually rather easy to establish. This evidentiary standard is rather low.
However, some defendants refuse to perform field sobriety tests. They have a right to refuse them under the Fifth Amendment. Other times, the defendant “failed” the test because of a technicality, such as a failure to walk heel-to-toe on one or two steps. Such a result may not be sufficient for probable cause, especially if test conditions were less than ideal.
Blood tests may pose a similar problem. Police officers must have search warrants to extract blood samples, and these warrants must be based on probable cause. If this element is lacking, the warrant was invalid, even if a judge signed it.
In both these cases, police officers must give clear statutory warnings before they request chemical samples. Sometimes, the officer does not say the right thing or skips this step altogether.
Chemical Tests and Reliability Problems
Today’s Breathalyzer is a 21st century version of a Drunk-o-Meter. The DOM, which was invented in the 1930s, measured alcohol particles in the breath. The more alcohol particles, the more the air in a balloon changed color. The Breathalyzer does the same thing. Alcohol particles trip a small fuel cell. The more alcohol particles, the stronger the electrical reaction, and the higher the meter goes.
This process is not just theoretical. There are some very practical Breathalyzer flaws, such as:
- Mouth Alcohol: Officers should carefully watch defendants for at least fifteen minutes before they take the test. Otherwise, it’s impossible to tell if the defendant burped or belched. If that happens, alcohol particles from the stomach flood into the mouth, causing an abnormally high reading.
- Failure to Calibrate: Breathalyzers have lots of bells and whistles, which means lots of moving parts. If these gadgets are not properly maintained, their results are suspect. Roughly the same thing applies if the administering officer was not qualified to operate that particular Breathalyzer model.
- Ketosis Breath: Many people on low-carb diets have unusually high ketone levels in their breath. The same is true for smokers, diabetics, and some other individuals. Breathalyzers measure ketones as ethanol. So, the BAC level may be artificially high.
Many times, attorneys partner with expert chemists to highlight these flaws to the jury. These professionals have much more credibility with the jury than the Breathalyzer technicians that prosecutors normally call to the stand.
Contact Experienced Lawyer
DUI chemical tests are not 100 percent accurate. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle matters in Hillsborough County and nearby jurisdictions.