South Carolina law enforcement does not use PBTs, or preliminary breath tests, on the roadside. In every case, they have no idea what a person’s BAC (blood alcohol content) is until after they have arrested them.
After a person is arrested, then the officer takes them for a breathalyzer test. You have already been arrested, and the officer is not going to “unarrest” you, so why would you give them a breath sample when you have the right to refuse?
What happens if someone blows a 0.00 on the breathalyzer, you ask?
Then the officer will say that the person is intoxicated on drugs.
It will be a rare unicorn of a police officer who “unarrests” someone and admits that they were wrong when they’ve already got the subject at the jail, and they’re afraid they will get sued if they let the person go now…
DUI Guide – How Breathalyzer Tests Work – Breath Test Procedure – Datamaster Machines
After you have been arrested for driving under the influence (DUI), the police officer will probably offer you a breath test either at the police station or at the jail (J. Reuben Long Detention Center, Conway City Jail, Surfside Beach Jail, or Myrtle Beach City Jail are some of the locations in Horry County, SC).
The Machine Calibrates Itself
When you blow into the machine, first it calibrates itself, breaking open a vial of “simulator solution” that should have an alcohol content of .08. The solution has an expiration date, and it must be the right temperature.
Later, your DUI lawyer will be able to pull a report on the Datamaster machine used in your case that will provide these details as well as other data on the machine and the breath test operator.
What is the Breath/Blood Ratio?
When you blow into the machine, it is designed to test the air from the “alveolar sacks” – the deepest part of your lungs, where the oxygen that you breathe is transferred to your blood/ circulatory system.
The “breath alcohol content” is not what they are looking for, though. To get the “blood alcohol content,” the machine multiplies the breath alcohol content from the alveolar sacks by 2100, giving it the final BAC number.
This is just one reason the machine is unreliable and does not give an accurate result – the breath/blood alcohol ratio is not 1/2100 for every person. They needed a single, easy number to multiply every test result by, so they chose a 1/2100 ratio which should be average.
The actual ratio can vary from person to person and even in the same person at different times, based on:
- Their height and weight,
- Their muscle/fat content,
- What they ate or drank on a particular day,
- Their metabolic rate, and
- Whether they are male or female.
1/2100 is a huge ratio, and even a small mistake in the initial number can result in an unacceptable error in the final result.
For example, what happens when someone’s mouth piercings or dentures retain a small amount of pure ethanol (as opposed to the deep lung air from the alveolar sacks) which is then multiplied by 2100 as if it were a breath alcohol number?
The Datamaster/breathalyzer results can be dead wrong if:
- You do not blow into the machine correctly,
- The machine is not calibrated,
- The simulator solution is the wrong temperature, expired, or has the wrong alcohol content,
- You ate the wrong foods before the test (bread, for example, can increase the result),
- There are piercings or foreign objects in your mouth,
- You belch before blowing,
- There is RFI/ radio interference with the machine,
- The officer does not follow SLED procedure, or
- The officer tampers with the results.
Independent Tests and Affirmative Assistance
SC Code § 56-5-2950 says you have “the right to have a qualified person of the person’s own choosing conduct additional independent tests at the person’s expense.”
This would be meaningless unless there is also a requirement for the arresting officer to help you get the independent test – the law also requires the officer to “provide affirmative assistance” including transporting the person to the nearest medical facility that can perform a blood test.
If the officer does not provide affirmative assistance to get an independent test upon request, any breath test performed by the State should be excluded at trial and in any implied consent administrative proceedings.
Urinalysis in a DUI Case
Law enforcement is also authorized to ask you for a urine sample to determine your BAC or the presence of drugs.
Police will sometimes order a urinalysis if they suspect you are under the influence of drugs or a combination of alcohol and other drugs.
It’s rare for police to request a urine sample in South Carolina though. Even if the urinalysis indicates that a person has drugs in their system, does it tell them when the person used the drugs?
It’s not enough for a witness to tell jurors that you had marijuana in your system, for example. To prove driving under the influence, the State will need to show:
- The exact level of marijuana in your system at the time you were driving,
- What levels of marijuana cause a person to be intoxicated to the extent that their faculties to drive are materially and appreciably impaired, and
- When you used the marijuana.
If you use marijuana on Monday, and a police officer pulls you over on Tuesday, you may have marijuana in your system, but you are probably not DUI.
Blood Tests – Blood Samples – Felony DUI
Although most DUI alcohol tests in SC are done in the Datamaster room on the breathalyzer machine, blood tests are generally acknowledged to be more reliable.
Law enforcement will almost always request a blood sample in felony DUI cases, and, in most felony DUI cases, they will take the sample against your will even if you refuse.
Under the rule outlined in State v. German (SC Supreme Court) and Missouri v. McNeely (US Supreme Court), if you do not consent to give a blood sample, law enforcement must get a search warrant before drawing your blood unless there are “exigent circumstances” that would prevent the officer from seeking a warrant.
You Can Refuse the Breath Test and You Can Refuse to Provide a Blood Sample
You have the right to refuse any of these alcohol tests – the breath test, a urine sample, or a blood sample. If an officer insists on taking a blood sample, do not interfere, but be clear that you do not consent.
Once you have been arrested and booked at the jail, you must wait for a bond hearing. In most cases, the bond hearing will be the next morning at the location where you were booked (J. Reuben Long Detention Center or a city/ municipal courtroom).