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D.C. DUI: Blood-Alcohol Level Only Part of the Story

by | Jun 17, 2013

A retired firefighter was recently arrested for drunk driving, even though it was later learned that his blood-alcohol content (or BAC) registered at 0.00 percent and a drug recognition expert cleared him of suspicion of being under the influence of other drugs.

The reason given for his initial arrest? The Colorado officer’s statement to the defendant that he could “tell by his eyes” he was driving drunk, and also a reportedly failed sobriety test – despite proof that the man had a bad hip and was scheduled for surgery in less than two days.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers know that this is an extreme case, but the truth of the matter is, you can be arrested for DUI even if your BAC is lower than the legal threshold of 0.08 percent. However, what this case – which was later dropped and has since resulted in a civil lawsuit – reveals is how subjective those other measures can be.

One of the reasons police agencies put such a strong emphasis on the breathalyzer test that measures your BAC is that it is some of the strongest science that officers have in proving a charge of driving under the influence. Because a breathalyzer is a machine, there is no risk of bias or other factors that may influence a human police officer.

Of course, that doesn’t mean these machines are always right. In fact, there have been many instances in which they have been proven to reflect inflated levels of alcohol in a person’s system – to the point where the District stopped using them for nearly two years after such problems were found to be widespread.

And still, they are sometimes given more weight as evidence than the testimony of an officer. The reason is that an officer – despite the formal pledges he or she makes when being sworn in – has biases and can make faulty assumptions and sometimes is just plain wrong. No matter how much training an officer has, he or she is still human and prone to errors – honest or otherwise.

This is why a person can still be arrested for DUI even if his or her BAC is under 0.08 percent or even if a trained drug recognition expert says they are drug-free. However, these cases are going to be very tough for prosecutors to win.

Still, judges and jurors still put an incredible amount of faith in the account of a police officer. Usually, they will give more weight to the officer’s testimony than yours. This is why you need a strong legal representative in court, showing why the officer’s story isn’t the whole story – or possibly even the right story.

In this case in Colorado, the defendant was returning home from swimming at a nearby fitness center. This, he would later say, was why his eyes were red. However, when he explained this, the officer said he did not believe him.

The officer made a faulty assumption at the outset of the stop, and rather than giving the suspect the benefit of the doubt, set about to prove his initial assumption. When the suspect’s hip condition caused him to perform poorly on tests that required physical agility, the officer took this as proof that he wasn’t, and arrested him.

This case clearly shows the subjective nature of sobriety tests. The fact that someone could blow a 0.00 percent BAC and also be cleared by a drug recognition expert – and still be arrested – shows how faulty the entire process can be. Still, you may need a good lawyer to prove it.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.