When you get pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving in South Carolina, the police will typically test your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) using a breathalyzer device. If the breathalyzer device says your BAC is above the legal limit (0.08 percent for drivers over 21 and 0.02 percent for drivers under 21), the police will arrest you on the spot for driving with an unlawful alcohol concentration (DUAC).
But, what if your BAC reading isn’t accurate? There are a number of reasons why a breathalyzer test might return a “false positive,” and arguing that your BAC reading was inaccurate can be an effective way to fight a DUAC charge in South Carolina.
With that said, it won’t be possible to challenge your BAC reading in all cases. Additionally, even if you successfully challenge your BAC reading, this won’t necessarily protect you against a conviction. Here’s what you need to know about challenging a false positive BAC reading in South Carolina:
While breathalyzer test results are often accurate, it is not unusual for a test to result in a false positive. Here are eight examples of reasons why a BAC reading might be inaccurate or unreliable—and therefore inadmissible in South Carolina criminal court:
1. The Breathalyzer Device Wasn’t Properly Maintained or Calibrated
Breathalyzer devices don’t just work. In order to function properly, they must be maintained and calibrated on a regular basis. If police records show that the breathalyzer device used during your traffic stop wasn’t properly maintained or calibrated—or if the police department doesn’t have maintenance or calibration records—this may provide grounds to argue that your BAC was artificially inflated.
2. The Arresting Officer Improperly Administered the Breathalyzer Test
In addition to properly maintaining and calibrating their breathalyzer devices, the police must also properly administer breath tests during drunk driving traffic stops. The officer administering the test must be, “trained and certified by the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, pursuant to [South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)] policies,” and the officer must follow SLED’s established guidelines. If the officer who administers the test is not certified or does not follow the SLED guidelines, then the test could very easily result in a false positive BAC reading.
3. You Have a Medical Condition
Certain types of medical conditions can impact your BAC. These include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), having a high red blood cell count, and having a high ketone level. If you have (or had) any condition that could have impacted your BAC reading at the time of your traffic stop, then this could provide a defense to your DUAC charge.
4. You Were on Medication
Certain types of medications can also impact your BAC. Oral pain relievers, cough suppressants, cold and flu medications (such as Nyquil), and various other prescription and over-the-counter drugs can all cause an elevated BAC without any alcohol consumption.
5. You Had Recently Eaten Something
Breads, chocolates, hot sauces, fruits, protein bars, and various other foods can cause a false positive reading on a BAC test. The same is true of energy drinks, certain sodas, and even non-alcoholic beers and wines. If you had consumed any of these foods or drinks shortly before your drunk driving arrest, this could explain why your BAC was elevated even though you hadn’t been consuming alcohol.
6. You Had Recently Used Mouthwash or a Breath Mint
Mouthwashes, breath mints, and breath sprays often have alcohol-based ingredients, but using these products does not make you guilty of drunk driving. If you had breath mint or a breath spray in your car, or if you had recently used mouthwash before getting behind the wheel, this could save you from a DUAC conviction in South Carolina.
7. You Had Mouth Alcohol
When you blow into a breathalyzer device, the device doesn’t just read the alcohol concentration in your blood. It also picks up any residual alcohol in your mouth (often simply referred to as “mouth alcohol”). If you had mouth alcohol because you had recently been drinking (or you had recently consumed a breath mint or other product), this could have falsely inflated your BAC reading.
8. Your BAC Rose After the Police Pulled You Over
When you consume alcohol, your BAC does not rise immediately. Instead, it takes time for the alcohol to enter your bloodstream and increase your BAC. As a result, it is possible that your BAC was under the legal limit while you were driving, and it only went over the legal limit after the police pulled you over.
If Your BAC Reading was Inaccurate, You Could Still Be Convicted of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)
Successfully challenging a false positive BAC reading can save you from a DUAC conviction in South Carolina. However, even if your BAC reading was inaccurate, you could still potentially be convicted of driving under the influence (DUI).
DUAC and DUI are two different types of drunk driving charges under South Carolina law. While a DUAC charge is based solely on your BAC, a DUI charge is based solely on your inability to drive safely due to alcohol impairment. This means that you can be convicted of DUI even if your BAC reading was flawed, and even if your BAC was below the legal limit.
With this in mind, as you are preparing to fight your drunk driving case in South Carolina, you need to make sure that you are asserting all necessary and available defenses. If you focus solely on disputing your breathalyzer test result, you could still find yourself facing the consequences of a DUI conviction.
Discuss Your Case with a Rock Hill Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer
Were you arrested for drunk driving in South Carolina, and do you believe that your BAC reading was inaccurate? If so, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation about your case. To speak with an experienced Rock Hill DUI defense lawyer in confidence, call 803-328-8822 or request an appointment online now.