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DUI Arrests and Breath Tests in Sacramento, CA

Posted by John Campanella | Sep 22, 2023 | 0 Comments

Driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense in Sacramento, California, and the consequences of a DUI arrest can be significant. In order to understand the process and implications better, it's important to have a grasp of how DUI arrests and breath tests function in Sacramento, CA. This article aims to provide you with valuable insights and crucial information to navigate through this challenging situation.

What Are Breath Tests?

Breath tests, often referred to as breathalyzers, are devices used to measure the amount of alcohol in a person's breath to estimate their blood alcohol concentration (BAC). These tests play a crucial role in determining if an individual is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol.

The way breath tests work is by detecting and analyzing the alcohol content present in the breath that a person exhales. When you consume alcohol, it gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and a portion of it is expelled from your body through your breath. Breathalyzers use this exhaled breath to estimate the level of alcohol in your blood.

The measurement is then converted into a BAC percentage, which is a standard unit used to express the amount of alcohol in the blood. In most jurisdictions, including Sacramento, California, the legal BAC limit for drivers is 0.08%, while for individuals under 21 years old, it's typically lower, often set at 0.01% or zero tolerance.

Law enforcement uses breath tests as a tool to determine whether a driver is operating a vehicle above the legal BAC limit. If the breath test results indicate a BAC level over the prescribed limit, it can lead to a DUI arrest and subsequent legal consequences.

It's important to note that while breath tests are widely used and generally reliable, they are not infallible. Various factors can influence the accuracy of breathalyzer readings, such as certain medical conditions, the presence of mouth alcohol from recent consumption, or environmental factors.

DUI Arrests in Sacramento

If you're pulled over by law enforcement in Sacramento and they suspect you may be driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they have the authority to conduct a DUI investigation. This typically involves a series of tests and observations to determine if you are impaired. Such tests can include field sobriety tests, checking for slurred speech, and assessing your overall behavior.

If the officer believes you are indeed under the influence, you will be arrested and taken into custody. It's important to note that California has implied consent laws, meaning when you obtain a driver's license, you implicitly agree to submit to chemical tests, such as breath, blood, or urine tests, if arrested for a DUI.

The Role of Breath Tests

Breath tests, commonly referred to as breathalyzers, are a common method used by law enforcement to measure a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). In Sacramento, CA, breath tests are a crucial tool in determining if a driver is above the legal BAC limit of 0.08% for adults and 0.01% for individuals under 21 years of age.

Breathalyzer tests work by analyzing the amount of alcohol in the breath you exhale. The device measures the alcohol content to estimate the BAC. However, it's important to note that breath tests are not always completely accurate and can be affected by various factors, including certain medical conditions, environmental factors, or even mouth alcohol from recent consumption.

Preliminary Breath Tests

Preliminary Breath Tests (PBTs) are initial, on-the-spot breathalyzer tests used by law enforcement officers to determine if a person might be driving under the influence of alcohol. These tests are typically conducted during a traffic stop when an officer has reasonable suspicion that a driver may be impaired by alcohol.

The main purpose of a PBT is to provide a quick and immediate indication of a person's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). It helps law enforcement assess if further investigation and potentially a formal breathalyzer test at a police station or detention facility are necessary.

Here's how a typical PBT works:

  1. Device Usage: The law enforcement officer will ask the individual to blow into the PBT device, which is a portable breathalyzer.

  2. Breath Sample Analysis: The device analyzes the alcohol content in the exhaled breath to estimate the individual's BAC.

  3. Immediate Results: The device provides a quick result indicating whether the BAC is above or below the legal limit.

It's important to note that while PBTs provide a useful initial assessment of alcohol presence, the results obtained from a PBT are generally not admissible as evidence in court in California. The formal breathalyzer test conducted at the police station or a detention facility is what holds legal weight and can be used as evidence.

However, the PBT results can still influence the officer's decision to make an arrest for suspected DUI. If the PBT indicates a BAC over the legal limit, this may lead to further testing and potentially an arrest.

In summary, preliminary breath tests are valuable tools for law enforcement to quickly gauge if a driver may be driving under the influence of alcohol. They serve as a preliminary screening tool to aid in decision-making during traffic stops and help ensure road safety by identifying potential instances of DUI.

What Happens After a Breath Test?

After a breath test, several outcomes are possible depending on the results and the circumstances surrounding the test. The breath test is a critical step in assessing whether an individual is driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, and it plays a significant role in the legal process that follows. Here's what typically happens after a breath test:

  1. Interpretation of Results: The breath test provides a reading of the individual's blood alcohol concentration (BAC). If the BAC is below the legal limit (usually 0.08% for adults in California), no further legal action related to DUI is typically taken.

  2. BAC Above Legal Limit: If the breath test indicates a BAC above the legal limit, the law enforcement officer may proceed with an arrest for DUI. The individual is then taken into custody, and their vehicle might be impounded, depending on local laws and policies.

  3. Reading of Implied Consent Rights: In California and many other states, drivers are informed of their implied consent rights. This means that by having a driver's license, individuals agree to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine) if arrested for DUI. Refusing to take these tests can lead to additional penalties, such as an automatic license suspension.

  4. Possible Detainment: Following the arrest, the individual might be held in custody until they are deemed safe for release, often based on sobriety and the passing of time to reduce the effects of alcohol.

  5. Legal Process Begins: Subsequent to the arrest, the legal process unfolds. This involves formal charges being filed, and the individual may be required to appear in court. The breath test results are a crucial piece of evidence in the prosecution's case.

  6. Consulting an Attorney: It's highly advisable for the individual to seek legal representation, such as a DUI attorney. The attorney will review the circumstances of the arrest, including the breath test, to determine potential defense strategies.

  7. Legal Defense and Proceedings: The attorney may challenge the accuracy of the breath test, question the legality of the traffic stop or arrest, or explore other defenses to protect the individual's rights and build a strong defense case.

  8. Potential Penalties: If convicted of DUI, the individual could face penalties such as fines, mandatory DUI education programs, probation, license suspension, and even incarceration, especially for repeat offenses.

Do I Have a Right to Refuse a Breath Test in Sacramento, CA?

Yes, you have the right to refuse a breath test in Sacramento, California, but it's important to understand the implications of that refusal under the state's implied consent laws.

In California, when you obtain a driver's license, you implicitly agree to submit to chemical tests (breath, blood, or urine tests) if you are lawfully arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). This is known as "implied consent." Refusing to take these chemical tests after a lawful DUI arrest can lead to immediate consequences:

  1. License Suspension: Refusal to take a chemical test results in an automatic suspension of your driver's license. The length of the suspension varies based on your prior DUI convictions and whether you have previously refused a chemical test.

  2. Increased Penalties: If you are later convicted of a DUI in court, the fact that you refused the chemical test can be used against you, potentially leading to enhanced penalties.

  3. Admission in Court: Refusal to take a chemical test can be used as evidence against you in court during your DUI trial. Prosecutors may argue that you refused the test because you knew you were impaired.

You have the right to refuse a preliminary breath test (PBT) administered during a traffic stop, refusing a chemical test after a lawful arrest is a separate matter and carries more significant consequences.

Common Problems with the Breath Tests in Sacramento, CA

Breath tests, while a common tool used to measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in DUI cases, are not without their share of potential problems and challenges. These issues can affect the accuracy and reliability of the results. In Sacramento, California, as elsewhere, these problems can be significant when it comes to DUI cases. Here are some common problems associated with breath tests in Sacramento:

  1. Accuracy and Calibration: Breathalyzer devices need regular maintenance and calibration to ensure accurate readings. If a device is not properly calibrated or maintained, it can produce incorrect BAC readings, potentially leading to false DUI charges.

  2. Mouth Alcohol Contamination: Residual mouth alcohol from recent consumption of alcohol-containing substances (e.g., mouthwash, dental products, belching) can skew breath test results, causing an artificially high BAC reading and an inaccurate assessment of impairment.

  3. Medical Conditions and Diet: Certain medical conditions, such as acid reflux or diabetes, as well as low-carb diets (like ketogenic diets), can produce acetone or other substances in the breath that breathalyzers may misinterpret as ethyl alcohol, leading to falsely elevated BAC readings.

  4. Rising BAC Levels: Alcohol absorption is an ongoing process, and during this time, BAC levels can rise. If a breath test is administered while the BAC is still rising, it may result in a lower BAC reading than the actual BAC at the time of driving.

  5. Individual Variations: Individuals have different physiological characteristics that can affect breath test results, such as lung capacity, breathing patterns, body temperature, and more. These variations can lead to inconsistencies in readings.

  6. Environmental Factors: External elements like temperature, humidity, or atmospheric pressure can impact breathalyzer accuracy. Calibration of the device should take into account these environmental variables to ensure precise readings.

  7. Improper Administration: If the breath test is not administered correctly by the law enforcement officer, it can yield inaccurate results. Proper training and following established protocols are crucial to obtaining reliable readings.

  8. Interfering Substances: Substances like mouth sprays, paints, cleaning products, or other volatile compounds present in the testing environment can interfere with the accuracy of breath test results.

  9. Time Delay Between Driving and Test: In DUI cases, time is a critical factor. If there is a significant delay between when you were driving and when the breath test is administered, it can make it challenging to accurately determine your BAC at the time of driving.

Five Ways We Challenge DUI Breath Tests in Sacramento, CA

Challenging a DUI breath test in Sacramento, California, is a common defense strategy used to contest the accuracy and reliability of the test results. Here are five ways DUI attorneys often challenge breath tests in Sacramento:

  1. Calibration and Maintenance Records: Attorneys often request calibration and maintenance records for the breathalyzer device used in the test. If there are discrepancies or irregularities in the maintenance schedule or calibration records, it can raise doubts about the accuracy of the device at the time of the test.

  2. Operator Training and Certification: The qualifications and certifications of the officer administering the breath test are crucial. Attorneys may challenge the operator's training records to ensure they were properly trained and certified to use the breathalyzer device. Any deficiencies in training can cast doubt on the accuracy of the test.

  3. Rising Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): One effective defense is arguing that the defendant's BAC was rising at the time of driving. Breath tests are usually administered at the police station after some time has passed since the actual driving. The defense can argue that the BAC was lower while driving and had risen to an illegal level by the time of testing.

  4. Mouth Alcohol Contamination: Attorneys may question the possibility of mouth alcohol contamination affecting the breath test results. If the defendant had substances like mouthwash or other compounds containing alcohol prior to the test, it could potentially impact the accuracy of the breathalyzer reading.

  5. Health Conditions and Medications: Certain medical conditions or medications can affect breath test results. Attorneys may argue that a defendant's health condition, such as acid reflux or diabetes, or medications they were taking could have influenced the accuracy of the breathalyzer reading.

Challenging a DUI breath test is a critical step in defending against DUI charges. A skilled DUI attorney in Sacramento will carefully analyze the circumstances of the test, the device's calibration and operation, and other pertinent factors to build a strong defense strategy tailored to the defendant's specific case. It's important to seek legal counsel promptly after a DUI arrest to ensure the best possible defense and outcome.

If you're in need of legal assistance and facing DUI or DWI charges in Sacramento, California, don't hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of John Campanella. Mr. John Campanella is an experienced DUI and DWI defense attorney dedicated to helping individuals navigate the legal complexities associated with these charges.

To schedule a consultation and discuss your case, you can contact the Law Office of John Campanella at (916) 498-8460. Seeking legal counsel is crucial in understanding your rights, building a strong defense, and striving for the best possible outcome in your DUI or DWI case.

About the Author

John Campanella

I have been representing people accused of drunk driving since I began practicing in 1995. I am active member of the National College of DUI Defense, a member of California DUI Lawyers Association, I am certified by the National Highway and Traffic Association for the administration of Field Sobriety Tests. I regularly attend DUI continuing education of the Bar, have tried over 35 Jury Trials, hundreds of pretrial motions and over 1000 DMV hearings all relating to DUI cases.


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