Blood Alcohol Tests
Why You Need a Santa Barbra DUI Attorney
If you are arrested in the state of California for driving under the influence, the police officer will use chemical testing to determine your blood alcohol content (BAC). These tests will use a blood, urine or breath sample to determine if you are driving over the legal limit of .08 percent BAC.
What are these tests—do you have to take them, and how do they work? Our team of experienced Santa Barbara criminal defense lawyers is here to answer your questions about the blood alcohol tests used in the state of California to determine whether or not a driver is operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Do I have to take the test?
Along with most states in the nation, California has an "implied consent" policy that governs the administration of chemical tests for individuals who have been arrested on suspicion of drunken drinking. According to implied consent, if a police officer has arrested you on probable cause for driving under the influence, the law considers that you have effectively consented to taking the BAC test.
This chemical test must be taken immediately at the time of the arrest and the officer must allow you a choice between a breath or blood test. If neither of these are available, a urine test (the least accurate of the three options) will be administered. If you wish to learn more about the particulars of the implied consent law, you can read California Vehicle Code § 23612.
There is a legal provision within the law which states that any driver who suffers from a heart condition or hemophilia or taking anticoagulants cannot be required to take a blood test. In such cases, however, the driver must still submit to a breath or urine test.
Prior to arrest, the officer will ask you to take a field sobriety test. He or she can use the results to establish probable cause for DUI. The officer should make it clear that you do not have to take this test.
What if I refuse to take a BAC test?
While you do have a right to refuse the initial sobriety test, doing so probably will not help you because the officer can still arrest you if other circumstantial evidence suggests you have been drinking, and upon arrest you will then be required to take a blood, breath or urine test under the implied consent law explained above.
If, after being arrested, you refuse the chemical BAC test, you are subject to strict penalties including fines and the suspension of your driver's license. These penalties are laid out in California Vehicle Code § 13353 and 14905. Additionally, you can still be charged and convicted of a DUI, which carries consequences including jail time. Some prosecuting attorneys may even use your refusal to take a BAC test to suggest that you knew you were over the legal limit and were attempting to hide the fact. Even if you are not convicted of a DUI, your license can be suspended for a set period of time if you refuse the chemical BAC test after arrest.
How does the test work? Is it accurate?
The first test—known as a field sobriety test—will test whether your balance and coordination has been impaired by alcohol. The officer may ask you to walk in a straight line, to stand on one leg, or to follow a small flashlight beam with your eyes.
If the officer arrests you for drinking and driving, a chemical BAC test will be administered. This test will serve as a scientific method of determining whether or not you are over the legal limit. There are three types of samples that can be used to determine BAC: blood, breath, and urine.
The blood test is considered the most accurate way to determine the level of drug or alcohol in a person's body. A defense lawyer may still be able to contest the results, however, if it is discovered that the blood sample was not properly preserved or there was an error in the reading.
The breath test is less certain. The police officer will use a "breathalyzer" device to gage how much alcohol is present in the sample of exhaled air. Typically, this number is then multiplied by 2,100 because the average person will have about 1/2100 as much alcohol on their breath as in an equivalent amount of blood. Different factors can affect these results. For example, any stomach fluid or certain mouthwashes or breath cleansers present in the person's mouth can change the reading. The officer should watch a person for about 20 minutes prior to administering the test in order to ensure that the reading will be accurate, but because so much guesswork is involved a skilled DUI attorney may be able to help you challenge DUI charges based on breathalyzer results.
The urine test is the least accurate of the three and is usually only used if the officer does not have the necessary equipment present to test either breath or blood. The officer can only get a correct reading if the person first empties their bladder (eliminating any misleading prior factors) and then supplies a second sample 20 minutes later.
Each of these samples will provide an accurate reading in most cases, but not always. An experienced DUI attorney may be able to help you challenge the results of your BAC test.