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Handling a DUI Case With a High Blood Alcohol Concentration

Handling a DUI Case With a High Blood Alcohol Concentration

Handling a DUI Case With a High Blood Alcohol Concentration

Getting pulled over and charged with a DUI (driving under the influence) is a scary situation, especially if your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is well over the legal limit.

A high BAC reading can lead to harsher penalties if you are convicted. However, there are still defense strategies that an experienced DUI lawyer can use to fight a high BAC DUI charge.

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What Is Considered a High BAC?

In all 50 states, the legal limit for blood alcohol concentration while driving is 0.08 percent. This means that if your BAC is 0.08 percent or higher, authorities consider you legally impaired and can charge you with a DUI.

A "high" BAC generally refers to anything over 0.15 percent - nearly double the legal limit. The higher your BAC, the more severe the penalties may be upon conviction.

Here are some general guidelines for BAC levels:

  • 0.08 percent - 0.15 percent: Standard DUI
  • 0.16 percent - 0.19 percent: Moderate DUI
  • 0.20 percent and above: Extreme DUI

With a BAC over 0.20 percent, you are considered extremely impaired. You can face the most serious DUI charges and punishments.

Penalties for a High BAC DUI

Penalties for a High BAC DUI

The consequences of a high BAC DUI vary by state.

Generally, they include:

  • Harsher fines
  • Longer jail sentences
  • Mandatory alcohol education or treatment
  • Installation of an ignition interlock device
  • Longer license suspension periods

For example, in California, a first-offense standard DUI (under 0.15 percent BAC) may result in up to six months in jail, fines up to $1,000, and a six-month license suspension. However, for a first offense with a BAC over 0.15 percent, the jail time increases to six months to one year, fines can go up to $1,800, and authorities may suspend your license for nine to 12 months.

The stakes are higher with an elevated BAC reading. This is why hiring an experienced DUI defense attorney is advised, even for a first offense.

An attorney can:

  • Scrutinize the evidence
  • Find any errors in the BAC testing
  • Work to get the charges reduced or dismissed entirely

While high BAC cases are more challenging to defend, there are still potential strategies a skilled lawyer can pursue, such as the following.

Challenging the Traffic Stop

The first step in defending against any DUI charge, including a high BAC case, is to check the legality and details of the initial traffic stop. For the court to even consider the BAC evidence obtained after the stop, the officer must have had valid reasonable suspicion or probable cause to pull the driver over in the first place.

Under the Fourth Amendment, police officers need a legitimate reason to conduct a traffic stop. They cannot simply pull someone over on a hunch or whim.

The reasons can include:

  • Witnessing a traffic violation, such as speeding
  • Running a red light
  • Unsafe lane changes
  • Defective equipment, like a broken taillight

However, reasonable suspicion for a stop can also stem from witnessing signs of possible impaired driving, such as weaving within a lane, drifting over lane lines, braking erratically, or any other evidence of driver impairment observed on the road.

The stop remains justified as long as the officer can point to specific facts that led them to reasonably suspect DUI at the time.

Suppose an officer cannot establish proper grounds for the initial traffic stop. In that case, everything resulting from the illegal stop is inadmissible in court—including any evidence of intoxication from field sobriety tests, Breathalyzers, blood tests, or even the driver's admission to drinking.

When a traffic stop violation occurs, an experienced DUI lawyer will file a motion to suppress all evidence obtained through an unconstitutional violation of the defendant's rights.

To successfully suppress evidence from an unlawful traffic stop, the defense must demonstrate the officer lacked reasonable suspicion or probable cause. Perhaps there were no moving violations, equipment issues, or driving irregularities that authorities can clearly articulate as a basis for the stop.

Or the officer may have followed the vehicle for a time, waiting for a minor pretext like a lane drift to pull them over when their actual motivation was an unsupported hunch the driver was impaired.

Even when the traffic stop seems legitimate on the surface, a skillful DUI attorney will:

  • Analyze all the facts
  • Review any dashcam footage
  • Question the officer's stated reasons for the stop to uncover any potential inconsistencies or civil rights violations

Many DUI cases have been completely dismissed due to a lack of reasonable suspicion for the initial traffic stop, rendering all evidence inadmissible.

While challenging the stop does not negate evidence of actual intoxication, it forces the prosecution to prove the officer had legal grounds consistent with the Constitution. When any reasonable doubt exists around the lawfulness of the stop, the court must rule in the defendant's favor on a motion to suppress evidence.

This is why analyzing and attacking the traffic stop is a fundamental first strategy for DUI lawyers, especially in cases involving high BAC allegations where the stakes are highest for their clients.

Questioning the Field Sobriety Tests

Questioning the Field Sobriety Tests

After a traffic stop, police officers will typically ask the driver to perform a series of standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) as a preliminary assessment for intoxication or impairment. The officer often uses the results of these roadside tests as probable cause to require further chemical testing, like a Breathalyzer or blood draw.

The three tests in the SFST battery are:

  • The horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) test, which involves following an object with the eyes to detect involuntary jerking
  • The walk-and-turn test requires the subject to take heel-to-toe steps along a straight line
  • The one-leg stand test, where the subject must raise one foot off the ground and count out loud

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) highly standardizes these tests, individual officers still administer them subjectively. They remain vulnerable to external factors as well as incorrect scoring and interpretation.

An experienced DUI defense lawyer will scrutinize every aspect of the field sobriety tests' conduct. A lawyer will look for inconsistencies or errors that can invalidate their results as evidence of impairment. Some common challenges include:

Environmental Conditions

Weather factors like wind, rain, extreme temperatures, poor lighting, and uneven road surfaces can unfairly interfere with a subject's ability to perform the physical tests satisfactorily. Officers are supposed to consider these conditions but often fail to note them or make accommodations.

Physical Limitations/Injuries

Many people may have muscle injuries, inner ear problems, vision issues, neurological conditions, or other disabilities that can prevent them from completing tasks like balancing, walking a straight line heel-to-toe, or following an object smoothly with their eyes.

Improper Administration

The tests have specific instructions that officers must follow when explaining and demonstrating them. Any deviations from the prescribed verbal instructions or physical demonstrations can lead to unfair start positions or confusion for the subject, invalidating the entire test.

Misinterpreting Behavior

Officers frequently make subjective judgments about minor things like swaying slightly, missing heel-to-toe by a small margin, keeping arms extended for balance, taking too many or too few steps, etc., and failing someone for an inadequate performance.

Non-Standardized Tests

Besides challenging the official SFSTs, a good criminal defense lawyer can convince a judge to exclude non-standardized tests like finger dexterity, reciting alphabet/numbers, or balancing tests.

The defense can show clear cases where environmental factors, medical issues, improper administration, or overly subjective judgments by the officer may have hurt a person's SFST performance. If they can, this casts doubt on the results of the failure. This undermines the supposed probable cause for arrest and subsequent chemical testing.

The field sobriety test results are just an opinion of the officer. They are not conclusive evidence of intoxication or impairment. By poking holes in the accuracy and legitimacy of these tests, a DUI defense lawyer can discredit the entire basis for the DUI charges.

A lawyer can fight to suppress evidence like Breathalyzer results and convince the court to reduce or dismiss the charges.

Attacking the Breathalyzer/Blood Test

Chemical BAC testing with a Breathalyzer or blood draw presents many opportunities for error. To ensure accuracy, authorities must properly calibrate and maintain the machines used for BAC testing. Additionally, they must store and test the samples correctly according to strict procedures.

Any mistakes in this process, whether in calibration, maintenance, storage, or testing, can render the BAC results inadmissible in court. Your lawyer will scrutinize every step of the testing process to challenge the validity of the evidence presented against you.

Rising Blood Alcohol Defense

In some cases, it's possible your BAC was rising when you were pulled over compared to when you were driving. An attorney can extrapolate back to determine if you were legally under the limit when operating the vehicle.

This nuanced understanding of BAC dynamics can build a strong defense strategy tailored to your specific circumstances.

Mouth Alcohol or Medical Condition

Mouth Alcohol or Medical Condition

One potential defense strategy for challenging a high BAC reading from a Breathalyzer test involves mouth alcohol or certain medical conditions.

Residual mouth alcohol from belching, burping, or regurgitation can lead to artificially inflated Breathalyzer results that do not accurately reflect the person's true blood alcohol concentration.

The Breathalyzer works by analyzing deep lung air for alcohol concentration. However, if alcohol is present in the mouth or throat immediately before blowing into the machine, it can cause an inaccurately high reading. This is because the machine is essentially measuring alcohol still in the mouth. It has not yet fully entered the bloodstream.

Certain medical conditions can also potentially cause elevated mouth alcohol levels that get picked up by the Breathalyzer.

Digestive issues like acid reflux, GERD, or certain enzyme deficiencies may allow greater amounts of alcohol to linger in the mouth rather than absorb completely.

In rare cases, other medical conditions like diabetes, high cholesterol, or muscular diseases can even cause the body to produce alcohol internally through fermentation processes.

When mouth alcohol contamination is a factor, the Breathalyzer result may show a very high BAC level that is not coherent with the person's actual level of impairment. In these situations, a blood test can provide strong evidence to counter the breath test reading and show the person's real BAC was likely lower.

Blood testing analyzes alcohol concentration from a physical sample rather than measuring air. If the blood sample was properly handled, stored, and tested, authorities should accurately measure the true alcohol level circulating in the person's body during the traffic stop.

If the blood test contradicts the Breathalyzer results, showing a lower BAC level, this provides reasonable doubt that the Breathalyzer was faulty due to mouth alcohol interference. An experienced DUI lawyer can argue that the blood test should precede more reliable evidence. This can potentially get the air test results dismissed.

Even if both the breath and blood tests recorded high BAC readings, a defense attorney can raise mouth alcohol issues as reasonable doubt. For example, providing evidence that the officer failed to properly observe the required 15-20 minute deprivation period before administering the Breathalyzer test.

Authorities conduct this observation period to ensure that no alcohol enters the mouth for at least 15 minutes, thus avoiding contamination from mouth alcohol.

Call a DUI Defense Lawyer Near You Today

If you or a loved one is facing DUI charges involving high blood alcohol readings over 0.15 percent, do not wait any longer to get help. Your future, driving privileges, employment, and even your freedom can be at stake. Take action now to protect your rights and get the legal representation you deserve.

Laywer - Tsion-Chudnovsky
Tsion Chudnovsky, DUI Defense Attorney

A criminal defense lawyer can examine your case's details during a free, confidential consultation. An attorney can advise you on your options and start building a strong defense against the high BAC DUI charges right away.

Don't plead guilty or try to navigate the court system alone. Hire a tenacious DUI lawyer who will fight to uphold your interests. Your future and your livelihood depend on it.

With the right legal representation, you can better navigate the complexities of the legal system and strive for the best possible outcome in your case.

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