Let's say you're traveling back home after a social gathering off-campus with some of your college friends. You're the driver and a police officer pulls you over. You tell everyone in your car to remain calm and cooperate when the officer approaches your vehicle. After the basic request to show your driver's license and registration information, you may be caught off-guard if the officer asks you to step out of your vehicle.
This is often a sign that he or she believes you have committed some sort of crime, perhaps drunk driving. If the officer mentions that your car veered over the yellow line or you seemed to have been driving erratically, you can assume the next set of questions is going to include a request to take a breath test or field sobriety test. This is where it is most critical that you understand your rights.
Not all breath tests are the same
If a police officer is trying to determine whether you have shown probable cause for him or her to arrest you for drunk driving, it is customary to request that you take a preliminary alcohol-screening test at the scene of the traffic stop. The following information clarifies how this test is quite different from a Breathalyzer and sheds light on your rights in such situations:
- A preliminary alcohol-screening device is a mobile breath test device that a police officer may use to detect alcohol on your breath.
- The law does not require you to submit to such a test.
- Never confuse this test with a Breathalyzer, which police usually give after an arrest.
- Only a person certified to administer a Breathalyzer may do so.
- Prosecutors may not use results of a preliminary breath screening as evidence against you if you wind up facing DUI charges.
- Refusing to take a preliminary breath test has no legal repercussions.
- You may make things harder on yourself in the long run, however, if you refuse to take the test.
In short, the preliminary breath test helps a police officer decide whether to make a DUI arrest. The Breathalyzer or another chemical test measures the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream to show evidence of whether you operated a motor vehicle illegally. Even Breathalyzers are not immune from errors, and if you believe an officer of the law has violated your rights, you can do something about it.