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Chemical Testing in PA DUI Cases: Blood, Breath, and Refusals - A Comprehensive Overview

Town Law Publishing Nov. 11, 2023

In Pennsylvania, as in many states across the U.S., driving under the influence (DUI) is a serious offense with potentially severe consequences. A key component in the prosecution of DUI cases is chemical testing — specifically, tests that measure blood alcohol concentration (BAC). Understanding the nuances of these tests, including blood and breath analyses, and the implications of refusing them, is crucial for anyone navigating a DUI charge in Pennsylvania.

The Science of BAC Testing

Blood Tests: Blood testing is often considered the most accurate method for determining BAC. The procedure involves drawing a sample of the driver's blood for laboratory analysis. This test can detect not only the presence of alcohol but also other controlled substances. In Pennsylvania, blood tests are typically administered in a hospital or a medical facility by trained personnel.

Breath Tests: Breathalyzer tests are more common during roadside stops. These devices estimate BAC by measuring the amount of alcohol in the breath. While breath tests are less invasive than blood tests, they are also generally less accurate and more susceptible to certain errors and external influences.

Legal Aspects of Chemical Testing in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, drivers have given implied consent to submit to chemical testing if they are suspected of DUI. This means that by holding a Pennsylvania driver's license, a driver has implicitly agreed to these tests. Refusing a chemical test can lead to severe consequences.

Refusal of Chemical Tests

Refusing a blood or breath test can lead to automatic penalties. This is because Pennsylvania enforces an implied consent law. Refusal typically results in an automatic driver's license suspension, regardless of whether the individual is eventually found guilty of DUI. The period of suspension can vary, but it is usually longer than the suspension that would result from a failed BAC test.

Defending Against Chemical Test Results

  1. Accuracy and Calibration:

    • Challenge the accuracy of the testing equipment. Breathalyzers must be calibrated correctly and regularly to provide accurate readings.

  2. Administration Errors:

    • Question the procedure of administering the test. The individual conducting the test must be properly trained, and the test must be administered in a specific manner.

  3. Medical Conditions:

    • Some medical conditions and diets can affect BAC readings. For instance, keto diets and diabetes can sometimes result in falsely high BAC readings in breath tests.

  4. Time of Consumption:

    • BAC can continue to rise even after a person stops drinking. The timing of the test in relation to the last drink can be a significant factor.

The Role of Legal Representation

Navigating DUI charges and the complexities of chemical testing require skilled legal representation. Experienced DUI attorneys can scrutinize the details of testing procedures and results, identifying areas where inaccuracies or procedural errors may provide grounds for defense.

Chemical testing in DUI cases in Pennsylvania is a process fraught with scientific, legal, and procedural complexities. Understanding the basics of blood and breath tests, the consequences of refusing these tests, and the strategies for challenging test results is essential for anyone facing a DUI charge in the state. With the potential for significant legal and personal consequences, individuals facing DUI charges are advised to seek competent legal counsel to navigate these complexities effectively.