Articles Posted in Breath Testing

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A late 2012 court ruling questioned the calibration methods used by Pennsylvania law enforcement for breathalyzer devices, and seemed to cast doubt on DUI cases all over the state. Comm. v. Schildt, No. 2191 CR 2010, opinion (Pa. Ct. Comm. Pleas, Dauphin Co., Dec. 31, 2012). Unfortunately, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania reversed the decision on procedural grounds in a nonprecedential opinion in September 2013. The trial court’s analysis still offers an important glimpse of something DUI lawyers have known for a long time: prosecutors rely on technology that requires, but does not always receive, regular maintenance and calibration in order to provide accurate information.

The defendant was reportedly involved in a single-car accident shortly after 2:00 a.m. on January 16, 2010. A state trooper arrested him after he admitted to having multiple alcoholic drinks. At the police station, a breath test was administered after a twenty-minute observation period, but within two hours of the time he was driving. The device used had last been calibrated and tested on January 9, according to police. Two breath tests yielded results of 0.208% and 0.214% breath alcohol content.

Prosecutors charged the defendant with driving under the influence at the highest rate of alcohol, 0.16% or higher. 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 3802(c). The defendant filed a motion to quash the charges, arguing that the breath testing could not scientifically establish blood alcohol content above 0.15%, and that therefore prosecutors could not prove an essential element of their case. Continue reading

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Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, commonly known as “driving under the influence” or just “DUI,” is a serious offense under Pennsylvania law. Penalties can range from a loss of driving privileges to a lengthy prison sentence, depending on the circumstances. The law in Pennsylvania clearly defines the obligations of police and prosecutors in any case of alleged DUI, and it is critically important for anyone accused of DUI to know their rights. Among the many elements of the offense of DUI that the state must prove, it must provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was impaired by alcohol or illegal drugs.

What is “Impairment”?

Pennsylvania law defines “impairment” very broadly as a state in which a driver is “incapable of safely driving, operating or being in actual physical control of the movement of the vehicle.” Police and prosecutors can gather evidence of impairment by testing a person’s blood or breath, or by observing a person’s behavior and testifying about it in court.

Blood alcohol content (BAC), the percentage of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream at a particular time, is considered by the legal system to be a reliable means of determining impairment. Pennsylvania law presumes that a person is impaired if their BAC is 0.08 percent or higher within two hours of driving. For anyone under the age of 21, or anyone driving a school bus, that amount is 0.02 percent. Commercial vehicle drivers are presumed to be impaired with a BAC of 0.04 percent. Continue reading