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DUI arrest challenged due to zero blood alcohol readings

When a man who is stopped for suspicion of impairment shows a zero reading for alcohol on a breath test it would seem to greatly challenge the viability of a DUI prosecution. Consequently, making an arrest under that circumstance is debatable and probably ill-advised. That reasoning is exponentially increased, however, when the blood test also comes back with a zero reading! This is what has happened to the mayor of the North Carolina town of New Bern who was charged with DUI and whose tests came back negative.

There is a twist, however, and that is that the test came back positive for Benzodiazepines, which includes such tranquilizers as Valium and Xanax. These medications are used for insomnia, seizures, anxiety and to control panic attacks. Because the mayor apparently could not perform a field test and was observed driving erratically by witnesses, the prosecution is apparently going forward. His explanation for the field test failure was that he had a hip replacement in past months and it affected his ability to maneuver.

It is possible that several benzodiazepines taken simultaneously could cause disability in driving. However, according to the suspect's lawyer, the test did not provide a quantitative analysis of the amount of medication in his system. With a test that only indicates that there was some unquantifiable amount in the man's system, a prosecution on that theory would seem to be impossible.

First of all, expert testimony would have to be presented regarding the effect of the drug. But that testimony could be seriously challenged if the quantity of drug in the man's system is unknown. That's because trace amounts could show up in the blood but have no remaining impact whatsoever on a man's driving ability. It's still conceivable that, under North Carolina law, there could be a conviction for DUI based on the man's erratic driving that was witnessed. However, it's an unlikely conviction and one that the prosecution should seriously question prior to going forward.

Source: Source: Sun Journal, "Bettis tests negative for alcohol," Eddie Fitzgerald, July 10, 2013

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