Understanding the Difference Between Certified Chemical Tests and PBTs in Drunk Driving Cases

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Drunk driving, or driving under the influence (DUI), is a serious offense. Law enforcement agencies employ various tools and procedures to detect and prosecute individuals who operate vehicles while impaired by alcohol. Two common methods used in DUI cases are certified chemical tests and portable breath tests (PBTs). While both are aimed at determining blood alcohol concentration (BAC), they serve different purposes and have distinct characteristics. In this article, we’ll delve into the disparities between these two types of tests. 

Certified Chemical Tests: 

Certified chemical tests, also known as evidential tests, are conducted using sophisticated equipment, often at a police station or a medical facility. These tests measure the concentration of alcohol in a person’s blood, breath, or urine. The results of certified chemical tests are considered legally admissible evidence in court proceedings due to the stringent protocols and calibration standards they adhere to.  These may be acquired via a machine that the individual will have to blow into or may be measured by drawing vials of the individual’s blood. 

Key Features of Certified Chemical Tests: 

  1. Accuracy: Certified chemical tests are highly accurate when administered properly by trained professionals. They provide precise measurements of BAC, which can be crucial in determining a person’s level of impairment. 
  1. Legally Binding: The results of certified chemical tests hold significant weight in legal proceedings. They are considered reliable evidence and can heavily influence the outcome of a DUI case. 
  1. Types of Tests: Common types of certified chemical tests include breathalyzer tests, blood tests, and urine tests. Each method has its own set of procedures and requirements. 
  1. Regulated Procedures: The administration of certified chemical tests follows strict protocols established by law enforcement agencies or regulatory bodies. These procedures ensure the accuracy and reliability of the results. 

Portable Breath Tests (PBTs): 

Portable breath tests, on the other hand, are handheld devices used by law enforcement officers to measure a person’s breath alcohol concentration (BrAC) at the scene of a traffic stop. Unlike certified chemical tests, PBTs are not intended to provide definitive evidence of BAC for use in court. Instead, they serve as preliminary screening tools to assist officers in determining whether further testing, such as a certified chemical test, is warranted. 

Key Features of PBTs: 

  1. Portability: PBTs are small, portable devices that can be carried by law enforcement officers in their patrol vehicles. This allows for on-the-spot testing during traffic stops. 
  1. Quick Results: PBTs provide rapid results, usually within a few seconds of administering the test. This allows officers to quickly assess whether a driver’s BAC exceeds the legal limit. 
  1. Screening Tool: PBTs are primarily used as screening tools to establish probable cause for a DUI arrest. They are not as accurate or reliable as certified chemical tests and are not admissible as evidence in court. 
  1. Limited Accuracy: While PBTs can provide an indication of alcohol impairment, they are less precise than certified chemical tests. Factors such as environmental conditions and improper usage can affect the accuracy of PBT results. 

In summary, certified chemical tests and PBTs serve distinct purposes in drunk driving cases. Certified chemical tests, conducted with precision equipment and regulated procedures, provide accurate and legally admissible evidence of BAC levels. PBTs, on the other hand, are portable screening devices used by law enforcement officers to assess probable cause for a DUI arrest quickly. Understanding the differences between these two types of tests is essential for anyone involved in DUI cases, whether as a defendant, legal representative, or law enforcement officer. 

While certified tests are generally deemed reliable it is important to hire an attorney who is proficient in these tests and knows what to look for to see if they were administered properly.  Any failure in the proper steps in conducting a certified chemical test may affect its admissibility in court. 

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a drunk driving case, contact the Indianapolis DUI defense attorneys at Banks & Brower 24/7 as they have handled thousands of these cases.  Call us at 317-870-0019