"My BAC Is Over .08. I Guess I Have to Plead Guilty..."

Not true!

I can't tell you how often I hear clients who feel absolutely defeated by the fact that they were stopped for DUI and produced a breathalyzer result over .08. "Over the limit, under arrest," right? Well, being over the limit can certainly get you arrested, but there is a long road between arrest and conviction, and an aggressive and experienced DUI attorney knows how to turn that road into a treacherous minefield for the prosecution.

First and foremost, unlike some states, Virginia does not have what is called a "per se" DUI statute. The best way to compare a "per se" DUI statute to Virginia's DUI statute is by example. As it turns out, North Carolina has a "per se" DUI statute. §20-138.1 of the General Statutes of North Carolina provides that a motorist shall be guilty of driving under the influence where "he has, at any relevant time after driving, an alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more. The results of a chemical analysis shall be deemed sufficient evidence to prove a person's alcohol concentration."

Virginia's statute is different, however, and has been interpreted by the Virginia Supreme Court to mean that the result of a breathalyzer or blood test only creates what is called a "permissive inference" that the blood alcohol at the time of the breathalyzer was the same as the blood alcohol at the time of driving. This seems like a minor point, but cases are won and lost on minor points.

What this really means to the DUI practitioner is that in North Carolina, once the motorist submits a breathalyzer over 0.08, the case is essentially over (unless there was no reason to stop the vehicle in the first place, etc.). However, in Virginia, that BAC over 0.08 is only indicative of the BAC at the time of the breath sample, not necessarily at the time of operation of the vehicle. This is a critical distinction, because the only BAC that matters in Virginia is the BAC at the time of operation of the vehicle.

This is where things get interesting; and where things get scientific. The science of blood alcohol is far more complex than can be explored in this posting. Suffice it to say that blood alcohol is a constantly changing variable. It changes with time, with alcohol intake, with food intake, with metabolism, and with countless other factors.

If you have ever consumed alcohol, you know that the effects are not felt immediately. Think about it like this: if you take two bottles of beer and drink them as quickly as possible, you do not feel the effects right away. But perhaps 30 minutes later you will begin to feel some measure of intoxication. Why is there a delay? Shouldn't you feel the alcohol as soon as it's in your body?

The answer is that the effects of intoxication are not felt until the alcohol actually gets into the brain, and to get there, it must first process through the digestive system, through the lining of the stomach and into the blood stream, only then can it flow into the brain to affect the central nervous system. This takes time. How much time? Well, it varies from person to person, and upon other variables such as food intake, speed and volume of alcohol intake, fatigue, metabolism, etc.

The reason why this is so important is that it is entirely possible for an individual to consume some amount of alcohol and then operate a vehicle with a BAC that is slowly rising, but never exceeding 0.08. This individual could be stopped on suspicion of DUI with a BAC of say, 0.07 (but still rising). By the time they get to the police station, that BAC could be drastically higher (and well above 0.08).

In North Carolina (because of the "per se" statute), it makes no difference that the BAC at the time of the breathalyzer was higher than it was at the time of operation of the vehicle. But in Virginia, a skilled DUI attorney can demonstrate to the judge or jury through scientific evidence that the BAC could have been much lower at the time of operation of the vehicle than it was at the time of the breathalyzer; thereby rendering the breathalyzer result essentially meaningless. This is where things like performance on the field sobriety tests and testimony of witnesses to the individual's drinking can be absolutely essential, along with an understanding of the science of blood alcohol and its effect upon the central nervous system.

The bottom line is that DUI litigation is a tremendously complicated field. If you are the kind of person who can't have a DUI on your record, you need to contact our office. Our rates are reasonable, but we know the law and the science of DUIs, and can apply both to winning your case!

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