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Portable Breath Test – PBT in DUI

Posted on February 23, 2017 in DUI

PBT is the abbreviation for Portable Breath Test.  This is the roadside breathalyzer that officers often use when evaluating a person for possible DUI.  It is a handheld device which can generally be purchased on the internet for $80-$200.  Many patrol officers or DUI specialists keep a PBT to check the breath alcohol of motorists.

Q: IS THE PBT ADMISSIBLE?

A: Guarded, NO.  The PBT is admissible only to show the presence of alcohol, however the actual results of the PBT are not admissible.  This is because these handheld devices are not certified, maintained, nor are records kept in compliance with DOT and do not have the same trustworthiness as the more thorough and much more expensive Intoxilyzer machines which are at the jail and/or the police station.  Additionally, the statute requires a 20 minute observation before giving someone a breath test which may be admissible.  The purpose of the observation is to assure that there is no mouth alcohol and that the user does not ingest or put anything into his/her mouth.  The roadside test does not include the 20 minute period, nor does the officer generally read the Implied Consent Form before administration.  Either of these would also render the test results inadmissible in a criminal trial.

Q: WHAT IF THE PERSON ADMITS TO DRINKING

A: If the driver has admitted to drinking, then the PBT is generally not admissible for any purpose.  If the sole purpose is to show the presence of alcohol, once the driver has admitted drinking then there is no other purpose to admit the PBT into evidence.

Q: SO WHAT IS THE USE?

A: Even though the devices are not in compliance, they are actually quite good at determining the level of alcohol in someone’s blood (breath).  The newer models can detect if there is too much mouth alcohol, which can affect the reading.  While not as precise as a blood test or breath test using an Intoxilyzer, the results from the PBT are generally within a close range.  Many officers only use this as a last Field Sobriety Test to either confirm that the person is over the limit if they have failed or are questionable after the field test or to assure that they are under if they have passed other field tests.

Q: WHAT SHOULD I DO?

A: If you are reading this, it is probably too late to determine if you should take the PBT or not and you should contact an attorney to defend you on the DUI/OVI charges.  That said, often the decision should be based on how well you did on the field tests and/or how much alcohol you have consumed.  If you are close to under the legal limit of .08, a reading under would convince the officer to allow you to leave without a DUI arrest.  If you are over, a test may give you greater input into whether you should consent or decline a formal breath test when you return to the station or jail.

If you have further questions about the PBT, you can email mike@bouldinlawfirm.com. If you need consultation and/or representation, contact Mike or schedule an appointment by calling Bouldin Law Firm at 859-581-6453 (581-MIKE).