For decades, breathalyzer tests were the gold standard for DUI evidence, but a recent slew of scandals has rocked the justice system's faith in the results.
Police and prosecutors are now searching for an alternative to breathalyzers and a new "gold standard" to present in court.
Instead of administering breath tests, many departments across the United States are now analyzing blood to get blood alcohol content (BAC) test results they can use as evidence for drunk driving. But just like breath tests, blood tests are also far from perfect.
In Florida, breathalyzer results are admissible in court but not always presented as evidence. Prosecutors know that DUI defense lawyers can often demonstrate the many ways breath tests can be wrong.
From breath tests to blood tests
One of the more recent developments in the justice system's shift from breath to blood tests is happening in Georgia.
Through a $44,000 state grant, Georgia police officers are learning how to draw blood for DUI analysis. According to The News & Observer, officer training will include 10 hours of online education and 32 hours of classroom training. Once training is over, police will have the same qualifications as a phlebotomist, the report says.
In Michigan, police departments are also planning to rely more on blood tests to prove DUI, but they aren't going to be drawing blood themselves.
Michigan officers take drunk driving suspects to local hospitals for drawn-blood alcohol analysis. State officials were encouraged, at least in part, to make changes in 2020. That year, Michigan State Police investigators discovered that the company responsible for calibrating police breathalyzers had falsified certifications.
But DUI blood tests do not necessarily provide more accurate results than breathalyzers.
In Texas, a recent NBC 5 Investigation revealed that a company's voluntary recall of more than 200,000 test tubes has put the results of numerous DUI blood tests under question. The news station IDs at least 2,000 instances where the faulty test tubes were used in Texas DWI cases. The same defective equipment was almost certainly used in other DUI tests outside of the state.
Blood test pitfalls
Whether it's testing a person's breath, blood, or urine, a host of outside factors can influence results and show a false, elevated BAC. The blood test measures the ethanol in your bloodstream. A drink can typically be detected in the blood up to 12 hours after consumption.
Breath tests can be off due to medication, diet, human error, faulty equipment, medical conditions, mouthwash, and many other reasons.
Outside influences on blood test results include:
Medical equipment expires and degrades — even test tubes.
The best environment for collecting blood is not roadside by a cop with a needle. There are many things that can happen when pulled over on the side of the road that could influence the draw or storage of the blood sample.
In the last couple of years, we have seen multiple instances where a company trusted to calibrate BAC machines failed to do so or simply lied about having done the work.
Florida DUI penalties
Florida courts have a lot of leeway when it comes to DUI sentencing. While there are mandatory fines that go along with a conviction, a judge has discretion over whether to assess additional penalties such as:
- Jail or prison — Imprisonment of no more than 6 to 9 months (for a first offense). A judge can sentence you to up to 5 years of imprisonment for a fourth DUI.
- No driving — Loss of driver's license for a minimum of 180 days for a first offense. A license can be suspended for a minimum of 3 years for a first offense DUI that results in bodily injury.
- Car, gone — Vehicle impoundment of 10 days for a first conviction and up to 3 months for a third conviction.
- Misdemeanor DUI — If you are convicted of a DUI that resulted in injuries to another person or property damage, it is considered a misdemeanor punishable by no more than $1,000 and 1 year of imprisonment.
- Second- and third-degree felony DUI — Drunk driving convictions that include serious bodily injury to others are third-degree felonies and can be punishable by no more than a $5,000 fine and 5 years imprisonment.
- First-degree felony DUI — Manslaughter or vehicular homicide DUI is a second-degree felony, but if you leave the scene of the accident, the crime is elevated to a first-degree felony. Being found guilty of a vehicular homicide in which you left the scene could be punishable by no more than $10,000 and 30 years imprisonment.
How a DUI defense attorney can help
If you are facing a drunk driving charge in Northeastern Florida or Clay County, you should strongly consider talking to a DUI defense lawyer to learn your legal rights and options. At Aguilar & Sieron, P.A., our dedicated legal team has a long history of getting the best possible results for our clients who have been charged with DUI. See what we can do for you. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.