January 21, 2021 | DUI
In most states, when a person applies for a driver’s license, they give express or implied consent to submit to a breath alcohol test, also known as a breathalyzer. Refusal to submit to a breath alcohol test can lead to a suspended driver’s license.
But instead of refusing, some drivers think that they can avoid a citation for driving under the influence as long as they do not have alcohol on their breath.
How long does alcohol stay on your breath, anyway?
When Can an Officer Give a Breathalyzer?
Regardless of the reason why a law enforcement officer pulls over a driver, if the driver is operating a vehicle under the influence, they can be cited for a crime. Cops can conduct suspicionless stops at checkpoints, after giving appropriate notice.
Cops have several tools to evaluate a driver’s sobriety, including:
- Roadside sobriety tests
- Breathalyzer tests
- Blood tests
Under certain circumstances, a DUI urine test may be administered. Alcohol can be detected in the urine for 12-24 hours after the last drink was consumed.
While roadside sobriety tests, urine tests, and breathalyzer tests can be conducted at the officer’s discretion, blood tests require a warrant signed by a judge.
A breathalyzer test is only one of the tools used to evaluate a driver’s sobriety.
Usually, an officer observes signs of drunkenness they can see and hear:
- Red or flushed skin
- Glassy or bloodshot eyes
- Loud talking
- Slurred speech
In many situations, officers do not even need to smell alcohol on a driver’s breath to develop a reasonable suspicion that the driver is operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
Sobriety Evaluation Methods
At sobriety checkpoints and during traffic stops, officers use sobriety evaluation methods at their discretion. Some of these methods have been scientifically evaluated, but other methods are of questionable validity.
A knowledgeable DUI defense attorney can help you investigate the method or methods used by the officer in your case. If an officer used a questionable or invalid method in making their arrest, an experienced attorney may be able to have the test results thrown out.
Field Sobriety Tests
The battery of tests includes:
- Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test
- Walk-and-Turn test
- One-Leg Stand test
Although the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has validated the accuracy of these tests, their validity has been challenged by disability advocacy groups.
Several other tests are commonly used by officers but have not been validated by the NHTSA.
Questionable field sobriety test methods include:
- Finger-to-Nose test
- Alphabet test
- Counting backward test
Some officers ask drivers to count their fingers while touching the hand of the opposite finger or stand with their feet together, head back, and eyes closed. Neither of these tests has been validated by the NHTSA.
A breathalyzer detects alcohol’s presence in the lungs. Ethanol, the scientific term for alcohol, is water-soluble and travels through water spaces in the body, like the bloodstream.
Soon after the first sip of alcohol, the body begins to absorb through the stomach.
From the stomach, here’s how alcohol gets to the lungs:
- Ethanol molecules are absorbed into the inside lining of the stomach and intestine
- Ethanol molecules travel through the membranes
- Outside of the gut cells, ethanol molecules pass into tiny blood vessels in the gut
Once ethanol, in liquid form, enters the bloodstream, it travels through the circulatory system to the lungs.
In the lungs, ethanol is vaporized into a gas that can be detected by the breathalyzer. Alcohol can be detected on the breath from 12 up to 24 hours after the last drink is consumed.
Drivers sometimes refuse breathalyzer tests. In some situations, such as a driver at risk of a felony DUI charge, it may seem reasonable to refuse.
However, with a warrant from a judge, an officer can draw blood to test for alcohol. Alcohol can be detected in the bloodstream for up to six (6) hours after the last drink is consumed.