Written by attorney Steven Fisher Fairlie

PA DUI blood and breath tests

Blood Alcohol Testing - To see this guide properly formatted go to Pennsylvania state law provides that the police may not perform a chemical test of a driver's blood alcohol content (i.e., a breath test or a blood test) unless there is "reasonable grounds" to believe that the driver was operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The police use field sobriety tests to help develop these "reasonable grounds" to submit motorists to chemical testing. By law, people who drive a vehicle in Pennsylvania are deemed to have given their consent to providing a breath, blood or urine sample when requested to do so by the police if (and only if) the police have reasonable grounds and have arrested the person for DUI. Motorists who refuse chemical testing (assuming reasonable grounds to arrest exist) will have their license suspended for at least one year by PennDOT, and the fact that they "refused" the test may be used them at trial. Whether a person is seeking admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program or headed toward trial, it is important to carefully examine whether the police appropriately developed "reasonable grounds" to believe a driver may have committed a DUI. Where "reasonable grounds" are found not to exist, all subsequent chemical testing may be suppressed. Alcohol is absorbed into the body through the stomach and small intestine over a considerable period of time. Alcohol has no physiological effect on the body or brain until it is absorbed into the blood stream. This absorption can take anywhere from 30 minutes, in the case of a dilute beverage and an empty stomach, to 2 to 6 hours with some beverages and a full stomach. Food in the stomach markedly delays the absorption of alcohol and reduces the peak level of blood-alcohol content as compared to a person with an empty stomach. Also, the ingredients in beer act like a food and delay the absorption of the alcohol found in beer. Alcohol is eliminated from the body at anywhere between 0.010 to 0.019 grams/deciliter/hour or 0.010 to 0.019 % per hour. The average person eliminates alcohol at approximately 0.015 % per hour. The two most common chemical blood tests are blood testing and breath testing. 1. Blood Testing Pennsylvania law requires hospitals and the physicians, nurses and technicians employed by hospitals to withdraw blood samples on DUI suspects unless there are emergency situations at the hospital at the time the request is made. Pennsylvania law also requires that blood (and urine) tests be performed at licensed and approved clinical laboratories using approved testing methods and equipment. It is important to carefully examine blood test results to determine if the variance or margin of error may include the possibility that the true blood-alcohol content was in a lower tier or below 0.08 percent altogether. If a person's blood-alcohol content is tested to be, say, 0.10 percent, no toxicologist (or prosecutor) can say with any certainty that the person's actual blood alcohol concentration was above or below this level. Virtually every toxicologist will concede that there is a variance of 3 to 10 percent within which the actual blood alcohol content would likely fall. Importantly, the Department of Health requires laboratories conducting blood-alcohol testing to test within 9 percent of a "known sample" in order to maintain their accreditation. Accordingly, many toxicologists contend that the margin of error of blood testing at such accredited labs should be presumed to be no less that 9 percent. Even if someone elects to seek admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program or plead guilty to DUI it is important to evaluate whether the documented blood-alcohol content can be reduced using a margin-of-error analysis. Anyone charged with DUI should carefully review all of these issues with an experienced criminal defense attorney. 2. Breath Testing Police frequently test blood-alcohol content by subjecting the motorist to a "breathalyzer" machine. These machines are different from -- and much more sophisticated than -- the "portable breath test" units police use to test blood-alcohol content at the scene of the stop. To be admissible at trial, breath tests must be conducted in conformity with regulations set forth by PennDOT. These regulations require the machine to be regularly calibrated, the person operating the test to be certified, a 20-minute observation period prior to the testing, and two breath samples taken within a prescribed period of time. The two breath test results must be within 0.02 percent of each other. A failure of the police to comply with any of these regulations can result in the results being suppressed (ruled inadmissible) at trial. As with blood testing, breath test results have a margin of error that should be considered in determining a person's actual blood-alcohol content. Persons charged with DUI must discuss these important issues with their attorney.

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo DUI email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer