State troopers to use blood, not breath, to determine if drivers are under influence
State troopers will use blood, not breath, to determine whether drivers are under the influence of alcohol, because the state Superior Court is scrutinizing a county judge's ruling that questions the accuracy of breath tests.
The change means state police will have to wait weeks for laboratory results, but the method is expected to spike the number of DUI-related drug charges because toxicology tests can determine whether blood samples contain illegal drugs in addition to alcohol.
“The breath test is for alcohol only,” said Trooper Adam Reed, a state police spokesman. “Blood tests can come back and say there is marijuana in that person's system, or bath salts, cocaine, prescription drugs and other things that are also impairing that person's ability to drive.”
Dauphin County Judge Lawrence F. Clark Jr. ruled last month that breath tests aren't accurate at levels of intoxication beyond 0.15 percent, which typically result in harsher punishments for suspects convicted of drunken driving. The legal limit in Pennsylvania is 0.08. Clark's ruling affects cases only in Dauphin County. District Attorney Ed Marsico has filed an appeal to overturn it, but if the state Superior Court upholds the ruling, it could hurt drunken-driving prosecutions statewide.
Reed said state police instituted the temporary suspension on using breath tests this month as a precaution.
In 2011, state police made 51,716 arrests for driving under the influence, a slight drop from 52,495 arrests in 2010. Those arrested were overwhelmingly men (76 percent); white (85 percent); and 25 or older (73 percent), according to state police statistics.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia police officials said they have no plans to stop using breath tests.
“We have consulted with the district attorney's office and continue to use the Breathalyzer as our primary means of testing in DUI related cases,” Pittsburgh police Deputy Chief Paul Donaldson said in a statement. “The arresting officer has the option, by statute, to choose whether a Breathalyzer or a blood draw will be conducted.”
Cathy Tress, director of the western office of the Pennsylvania DUI Association, said suspects routinely challenge drunken-driving arrests in court.
The difference this time is that a judge ruled in favor of a defense attorney's argument that the results produced by the Intoxilyzer 5000EN were not scientifically reliable because the device is not calibrated in the field to interpret results higher than 0.15 percent or lower than 0.05 percent.
State police use the same Intoxilyzer machine, which requires suspects to blow into a tube. The machine uses infrared light to analyze the alcohol content.
Tress said the checkpoint task forces her organization works with have phlebotomists on site to draw blood from suspected drunken drivers. Those who refuse can lose their driver's licenses for a year. She's not worried that the court dispute will affect the ability of task forces to catch drunken drivers at checkpoints.
“Our No. 1 one goal is to remove impaired drivers from the roadway,” she said.
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Man, child hit by car late Saturday in South Side
- Court attire can have impact, public defenders say
- Tradition rules in Pittsburgh: Keep bridge color the same, poll finds
- Man fatally shot in East Liberty; police investigating 2nd shooting
- Higher school taxes prevail in Western Pennsylvania, Trib finds
- Newsmaker: Katherine A. Davoli
- Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
- Independence Day festivities scheduled
- Homewood woman accused of card game stabbing
- Fireworks displays costly, but W. Pa. communities feel obligated
- Pitt researchers using grant to find cures for viruses from mosquitoes