What you need to know about breathalyzers

Breathing into a tube isn't always in your best interest

Topics: Law enforcement, DUI, Congress, Alcohol, Crime, ,

Rep. Tim Ryan, D.-Ohio., was arrested for public intoxication this past summer, before he managed to get the case dismissed this week. Refusing to take a breathalyzer test probably helped him.

You might be thinking: “Those politicians get all the breaks!” But it turns out that refusing to take a breathalyzer can be a cunning move.

In light of Rep. Ryan’s brush with the law, Salon sought legal advice from lawyers in Virginia, where Ryan was picked up for his misdemeanor. The circumstances surrounding Ryan are not public, but the decision to take or not take a breathalyzer can even matter when drivers get stopped for drunk driving. Here’s what we learned:

Richard J. Bonnie, Director of UVA’s Institute of Law said that when a driver is stopped:

All states have so-called implied consent laws under which refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test or other measure of recent alcohol consumption is a ground for suspension of your driver’s license.  Use of the refusal as evidence in a criminal prosecution is a different story. As a practical matter, the prosecution still needs other evidence of intoxication, such as police testimony about odor of alcohol or apparent cognitive or behavioral impairment.

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Michael Pignone, a DUI lawyer in Virginia, shared similar information:

For public intoxication, if you’re lawfully stopped, if the officer has reason to believe you’re intoxicated, you can be arrested for being in public. Officers don’t have the right to have you breath tested. He has to be able to produce enough evidence (eyes, behavior), that you’re intoxicated. Even after you’ve been arrested, they can’t make you take a breath test. They just base it on what the see.

If readers absolutely must test this advice, they’d be well advised to know the law in their state.

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