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Breath Testing in DC DUI Cases

When a person is arrested for driving under the influence in DC, they will be asked to submit a breath sample for testing. Depending on the circumstances, it may be in the individual’s best interest to turn down the test, if possible, but in other situations it may be advantageous to take it. If the individual does take the test, but gets unfavorable results, a DC DUI lawyer may be able to challenge the results of the test, and potentially get them dismissed in certain cases.

The Portable Breath Tests

There are two types of breath tests in Washington DC. The first type is a portable breath test that is sometimes offered to a DUI suspect at the scene of the investigation, which would be the location where driver was pulled over. The portable breath test is not usable in court and it is not considered to produce reliable results that could be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding.

There is no benefit and no penalty for a person accepting or declining to provide a breath sample on a portable breath test and a police officer is not required to ask a person to submit a breath sample on a portable breath test.

Breath Testing Process

When a person is pulled over and suspected by police of driving under the influence of alcohol, the police officers will ask him or her to do a number of things before that person would be asked to submit a breath sample for testing.

The police would first need a basis upon which to pull the person over, such as a traffic violation. After pulling the person over, the police would then need probable cause to make an arrest. Probable cause can be based on the general demeanor of the driver, such as slurred speech or bloodshot and watery eyes, or the driver’s performance on field sobriety tests, such as the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus Test or the Walk and Turn Test. There are a number of factors that a police officer can use to gain probable cause in order to conduct an arrest.

Once a person has been placed under arrest for driving under the influence, the person is then taken back to the police station and asked to submit a breath sample for testing. Under most circumstances, a person who has been arrested does have the ability to refuse to give a breath test. In some circumstances, however, it can be to a person’s disadvantage to refuse to submit to such a test.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Test

Once a suspect is at the police station, he or she is read a DC implied consent form that notifies the suspect of the rules for the submission of a breath test in Washington DC and some of the penalties associated with declining to submit a breath sample.

The most important penalty for a person to be aware of is that refusing to submit a breath sample in this situation would result in a mandatory one-year revocation of his or driving privileges in Washington DC, regardless of whether he or she was convicted or acquitted of the underlying DUI.

Another highly relevant disadvantage to refusing to submit to a breath test is that, if a person provides a breath sample and the breath sample shows blood alcohol content at a relatively low level, such as 0.10 or below, and that person has no prior criminal history, then that person may be eligible for favorable treatment based on negotiations between that person’s defense lawyer and the prosecutor in the case. In such situations, a breath sample that shows a relatively low blood alcohol content can be used in negotiations between a defense attorney and a prosecutor to resolve the case in a favorable way for a defendant. In some circumstances, refusing to provide a breath sample can make a person ineligible for such favorable negotiated resolutions.

However, in certain other circumstances, a breath sample that shows a relatively high blood alcohol content can be very problematic for a person’s case. A blood alcohol content of 0.20 or higher, for example, would indicate a very high level of impairment. Such test results could lead to that person facing mandatory minimum incarceration that a judge does not have the discretion to decrease.

Means of Challenging

In such situations, a lawyer would need to be able to have an effective strategy to challenge the result of a person’s breath test. Such a strategy could include inspecting the calibration records for the breath testing machine or the methodology by which the testing officers obtained the defendant’s breath sample.