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Portable Breath Tests (PBT Test) And Your Rights In NC

When someone is pulled over for a DWI or DUI, they oftentimes are not aware of their legal rights when it comes to taking breath tests administered by police officers.

When you are at a traffic stop you may be administered a PBT breath test, then again, at the police station, you are faced with another breathalyzer test. Do you need to take both? Are both sobriety tests measuring for the same things? The Law Offices of J.M. Kotzker, P.C. has your guide to understanding portable breath tests.

Our North Carolina DWI attorneys are here to help prepare you with the knowledge you need to understand your rights and the details of the breath tests given when pulled offer for DWI traffic stops or when arrested for drunk driving.

Overview of the Portable Breath Test (PBT) and How It Works

If you've ever been pulled over for a traffic stop and are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you've likely been given a preliminary breath test (PBT). If the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you are driving while intoxicated, they may request that you take a breath alcohol test called a PBT.

It's completely understandable if, in this circumstance, you feel uncomfortable agreeing to a breath test. You may wonder, do you legally have to comply with a DUI test and allow the police officer to administer the breath test? Can you wait until you get to the police station to take a breathalyzer test? How exactly can the breath test results impact your DWI case?

What is a PBT?

A PBT is a portable breath test carried out by most police officers. Along with field sobriety tests, PBTs are used at the site where your vehicle was pulled over by the cops to determine if there is probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence.

The PBT is a handheld device that tests the levels of alcohol in your bloodstream. Anything over a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 is considered to be over the legal limit to drive. It is the first of two breath tests that people suspected of drunk driving are given. The second test is the breathalyzer test, which is administered at the police station.

The PBT's accuracy is less reliable than a chemical breath test like a breathalyzer. Furthermore, a preliminary breath test is not admissible in court to be used as evidence in your case.

Can I Refuse a PBT and Breathalyzer?

You absolutely have the legal right to refuse a PBT at the scene of the traffic stop. However, once you arrive at the police station another test, the breathalyzer, which also tests for traces of alcohol in your blood, is to be administered.

At the police station, you additionally have the legal right to refuse the breathalyzer test, which is a more accurate chemical screening device for traces of alcohol in your system. This chemical breath test gives law enforcement a more accurate reading of your BAC. The results of an evidential breathalyzer test are admissible in court.

Despite it being within your rights to refuse a breathalyzer, there are consequences for doing so. Your driver's license will be immediately suspended without the possibility of reversal.

Is a PBT The Same As A Breathalyzer?

A PBT is a handheld machine administered by police officers at the scene of a traffic stop prior to an arrest, whereas a breathalyzer test is a more accurate, chemical test given at the police station after the suspect is arrested.

Although both assess if you were consuming alcohol while operating a vehicle, the devices used for the blood test for alcohol in your system are not the same thing.

How Accurate Is A PBT Test?

There are factors to using handheld machines for DWI and DUI testing that contribute to inaccurate readings. From an officer's human error or inexperience in operating the device properly to influences like radio frequency interference, air and body temperatures, and the quality of the breath blown during the test, there are many reasons that a PBT test might give an inaccurate reading.

Is A Chemical Test The Same As A Breathalyzer?

A breathalyzer is a chemical test that looks for blood alcohol content in your system. There are other, less accurate, non-chemical tests like PBTs. Chemical tests are admissible in court because their readings are done through desktop machines at the police station.

Legal Implications Surrounding PBTs and Your Rights Before Testing

While police officers are supposed to offer a PBT at a traffic stop, they will more than likely not tell you that you are not legally required to take this test at this time. It's normal to be unsure of what to do when stopped for a DUI. It is within your best interest to refuse the administering of a BAC through a PBT device. However, the consequence is that you will be arrested on the spot whether you are intoxicated or not as long as your refusal goes in hand with reasonable suspicion for a DWI.

Then, once you arrive at the police station, you will be given a more accurate test called the breathalyzer, a chemical breath test whose results can be used against you in a court of law. You equally are legally within your rights to refuse this chemical test, however, there are immediate consequences. For instance, your license will be revoked and indefinitely suspended.

Resources & Next Steps For Those Facing Criminal Charges After Receiving A Positive Result On A PBT Test

If you've been charged with a DWI because of a positive result on a PBT test, our DWI defense lawyers can help you with the next steps in your case. It's important to work with a reputable and experienced lawyer to build the best possible case strategies to help you avoid receiving jail time for your DWI or other punishments.

Strategies For Defendants Who Have Had Criminal Charges Brought Against Them Based On A Failed PBT Test

One approach to your DWI case is to argue that your PBT test results were due to a "false positive." A false positive is when something did not properly operate within the equipment or administrating of the test, which leads to a false BAC reading.

Reasons for a false positive reading on a PBT are:

  • Officers did not calibrate the test correctly.
  • Food, drinks other than alcohol, or medications led to a false reading.
  • The quality of breath when blowing into the device.
  • Nearby radio frequency interference.
  • The interference of weather temperature conditions.

Other strategies for defending your DWI charges would be to prove that the officer who pulled you over did not have probable cause to do so, the credibility of the arresting officer is in question, or you were never behind the wheel of the vehicle in the first place. These and other circumstances are case-specific. Our DWI law firm will discuss the details surrounding your individual case during your free consultation.

Ensure Your PBT Test Was Administered Correctly And Your Rights Are Protected With The Law Offices Of J.M. Kotzker, P.C.

Do you think your rights were violated at a traffic stop? Are you facing a DWI conviction due to a false positive PBT test result? If you are facing DWI charges in the state of North Carolina, our DWI attorneys are here to help.

The Law Offices of J.M. Kotzker, P.C. have helped many Raleigh and surrounding area clients avoid convictions where there was substantive evidence from a breath test. We want to help you avoid jail time due to a breath sample that is in question.

Call us today at (919) 439-5104 or begin by filling out the form below for a free consultation.