As Orange County DUI attorneys, we know it’s not hard to get in trouble for DUI – driving under the influence – here in the state of California. In 2016, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the licenses of over 130,000 California drivers after those motorists were charged with DUI.
California police agencies often use breathalyzers to decide if a motorist should be arrested and charged with DUI. California prosecutors also use the breath test results to prove DUI charges and win convictions.
The truth is that any California driver can be pulled over in traffic by a police officer and accused of DUI. But how accurate are the breathalyzer tests that are conducted by those police officers?
HOW DOES A BREATHALYZER WORK?
When a person drinks alcohol, the alcohol quickly enters into that person’s bloodstream. As the blood makes its way through the lungs, alcohol molecules are released through the person’s breath.
Breathalyzer devices are designed to identify and measure the volume of alcohol in someone’s breath. A breathalyzer then calculates the quantity of alcohol in someone’s bloodstream based on the quantity of alcohol in that person’s breath.
Breathalyzers give law enforcement officers a convenient, noninvasive way to estimate someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) level, but breathalyzer devices do not measure directly anyone’s BAC level. That would require a blood sample.
WHY ARE BREATHALYZER TEST RESULTS SO OFTEN WRONG?
There are plenty of reasons why a breathalyzer result may be inaccurate. As you are about to learn, even the cavities in your teeth could throw off a breathalyzer measurement.
For a breathalyzer exam to yield accurate results, the alcohol that someone consumes has to travel through that person’s bloodstream and into the lungs. Testing a person too quickly after drinking almost inevitably yields an inaccurate result.
That’s because immediately after someone has been drinking, alcohol residue briefly lingers in the throat and in the mouth. That’s why police officers are supposed to detain a DUI suspect and wait for fifteen minutes before administering a breathalyzer exam.
WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN A BREATHALYZER TEST IS CONDUCTED?
Cavities, braces, and dentures or other dental work can trap alcohol in the mouth, which can lead to a false high reading. But alcohol evaporates quickly. Fifteen minutes is usually enough time to make sure that a breathalyzer exam is not inaccurate due to residual “mouth alcohol.”
But if a police officer does not wait the full fifteen minutes, or if a drop or two of alcohol gets stuck in your cavities, dentures, or braces, you could be wrongly charged with driving under the influence – even if one sip was literally all that you had to drink.
Several medical conditions can also make a breathalyzer exam result inaccurate. These conditions – heartburn, acid reflux, and gastrointestinal reflux disease – can create acid in the esophagus, mouth, and stomach. A breathalyzer can wrongly identify that acid as alcohol.
WHAT IS AUTO-BREWERY SYNDROME?
There is even a rare medical condition known as “auto-brewery syndrome” where high amounts of yeast in the intestines ferment high-carbohydrate food into alcohol. A number of drivers have been wrongly accused and prosecuted for DUI due to this rare medical condition.
Diabetes patients and people with hypoglycemia may have a high level of acetone in their breath, but breathalyzers cannot distinguish acetone from alcohol. Someone’s acetone level may also be high if that person is fasting or has been practicing an extreme diet.
A breathalyzer can also deliver a false reading if a driver is taking heartburn or indigestion medication such as Nexium, Rolaids, Tums, Prilosec, Pepto-Bismol, or Maalox.
Other substances that may be wrongly identified as alcohol by a breathalyzer device are found in medicines, foods, beverages, mouthwashes, toothpastes, and breath fresheners.
WHAT ABOUT CIGARETTES? CAN THEY SKEW BREATHALYZER RESULTS?
And according to the British Medical Journal, even cigarettes can have an impact on blood alcohol content level measurements. Smokers are far more likely than nonsmokers to be charged with driving under the influence on the basis of an inaccurate breathalyzer reading.
California drivers should understand that if a law enforcement officer believes that a motorist is unable to drive his or her vehicle safely, that motorist will be placed under arrest. A breathalyzer test at a DUI traffic stop simply gives the police officer more evidence to use against you.
Should you be arrested for driving under the influence in or near Orange County due to an inaccurate breathalyzer test result, you must reach out and arrange immediately to speak with an experienced Orange County DUI attorney.
WHAT TRAITS SHOULD YOU SEEK IN A DUI DEFENSE ATTORNEY?
If you are charged with driving under the influence, you must have an aggressive defense attorney advocating on your behalf. Why? Because even a misdemeanor, first-offense DUI conviction can send you to a California county jail for a year and cost you up to $1,000 in fines.
The science and law involved in driving under the influence cases is exceedingly complicated, so your DUI defense attorney must have substantial knowledge of the law and considerable experience representing clients accused of driving under the influence.
A DUI defendant will also need an attorney with an outstanding reputation and a record of success. Your lawyer should give you confidence and be someone you trust.
HOW CAN A DUI ATTORNEY HELP YOU?
You should know that there are several ways to avoid a driving under the influence conviction, and being arrested does not automatically mean that you’ll be convicted.
If you have cavities, if you wear braces or dentures, if you use heartburn medicine, or if you suffer from diabetes or GERD, your attorney may choose to contest the breathalyzer test results.
Your attorney will first attempt to have the charge against you reduced or dismissed entirely. If this is not possible, your attorney may recommend taking your case to trial and asking a jury of your peers to find you not guilty.
WHEN SHOULD YOU CONTACT A DUI DEFENSE LAW FIRM?
If you are innocent, adhere to your attorney’s advice, fight the charge, and do not accept a plea bargain or plead guilty to a reduced charge.
The state must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict you of driving under the influence, and that can be quite difficult to do if you are in fact innocent of DUI and if you have a defense lawyer advocating on your behalf.
If you are charged with DUI in southern California – for any reason – speak immediately with an experienced Orange County DUI attorney. Your future could depend on it.