Did you take the Portable Breath Test?

A PBT machine is a portable breath test device used by police to help them decide whether or not to make a drunk driving arrest. It is typically given at the roadside where the drunk driving arrest is made, whereas the “official” breath test machine – the BAC Verifier DataMaster or the Draeger Alcosensor  – is located at a police station. The PBT is used for “probable cause” whereas the DataMaster or Draeger is used as evidence at trial on a drunk driving charge. (The “Breathalyzer” has not been used in Washington state by police for years but that term is still often used when referring to the evidential breath test machine at the police station.)

The law specifies a protocol for the administration of the PBT and the advisements that must be given before the PBT is administered. If the officer doesn’t give the correct advisements, then the results of the portable breath test cannot be used in court for any purpose. If the correct advisements are given, then the results of the portable breath test may be used in a “probable cause” hearing but not at trial. Of course, preventing the portable breath test from being used at trial depends upon the defense attorney being alert to the potential use of the portable breath test and making a timely objection in pretrial motions before the start of the trial on the DUI charge.

There is a critical difference between the PBT and the “official” breath test machine – the BAC Verifier DataMaster or the Draeger: You do not have to submit to the PBT, but the law says that you will lose your license for at least one year if you refuse to take a legally requested DataMaster or Draeger test. It is a grave mistake to confuse the PBT with the “official” test, but the critical legal difference between the PBT and the DataMaster or Draeger frequently is not clearly explained to a driver during a drunk driving arrest and processing. These are fine legal distinctions, and a person arrested for DUI would be well advised to ask to speak with an attorney (they are available 24 hours a day by telephone in most Washington counties.)

Questions? Call Jon Fox at the Fox Law Firm PLLC (425) 274-9190.

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