Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seeing might just be believing

Earlier this month, police in Clarence, NY pulled over Michael Bartz for driving 59 mph in a 45 mph zone. That Mr. Bartz was speeding wasn't newsworthy. Blowing a .30 on the state's breath test machine, on the other hand, was.

The newspaper article states that a 160 lb. man would have to consume 11 alcoholic drinks in an hour to reach a .30. My Alcopro Drink Wheel tells me that it would take 13 drinks to achieve that blood alcohol concentration. Either way, that's a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time.

BAL .02%-.03%: You feel mildly relaxed and maybe a little lightheaded. Your inhibitions are slightly loosened, and whatever mood you were in before you started drinking may be mildly intensified.

BAL .05%-.06%: You feel warm and relaxed. If you're the shy type when you're sober, you lose your feelings of shyness. Your behavior may become exaggerated, making you talk louder or faster or act bolder than usual. Emotions are intensified, so your good moods are better and your bad moods are worse. You may also feel a mild sense of euphoria.

BAL .08%-.09%: You believe you're functioning better than you actually are. At this level, you may start to slur your speech. Your sense of balance is probably off, and your motor skills are starting to become impaired. Your ability to see and hear clearly is diminished. Your judgment is being affected, so it's difficult for you to decide whether or not to continue drinking. Your ability to evaluate sexual situations is impaired. Students may jokingly refer to this state of mind as beer goggles,but this BAL can have serious repercussions. See the pages on Sex and Alcohol: A Risky Relationship for how to protect yourself.

BAL .10%-.12%: At this level, you feel euphoric, but you lack coordination and balance. Your motor skills are markedly impaired, as are your judgment and memory. You probably don't remember how many drinks you've had. Your emotions are exaggerated, and some people become loud, aggressive, or belligerent. If you're a guy, you may have trouble getting an erection when your BAL is this high.

BAL .14%-.17%: Your euphoric feelings may give way to unpleasant feelings. You have difficulty talking, walking, or even standing. Your judgment and perception are severely impaired. You may become more aggressive, and there is an increased risk of accidentally injuring yourself or others. This is the point when you may experience a blackout.

BAL .20%: You feel confused, dazed, or otherwise disoriented. You need help to stand up or walk. If you hurt yourself at this point, you probably won't realize it because you won't feel pain. If you are aware you've injured yourself, chances are you won't do anything about it. At this point you may experience nausea and/or start vomiting (keep in mind that for some people, a lower blood alcohol level than .20% may cause vomiting). Your gag reflex is impaired, so you could choke if you do throw up. Since blackouts are likely at this level, you may not remember any of this.

BAL .25%: All mental, physical, and sensory functions are severely impaired. You're emotionally numb. There's an increased risk of asphyxiation from choking on vomit and of seriously injuring yourself by falling or other accidents.

BAL .30%: You're in a stupor. You have little comprehension of where you are. You may suddenly pass out at this point and be difficult to awaken. (But don't kid yourself: Passing out can also occur at lower BALs. But, at lower blood alcohol levels, you may decide You've had enough to drink and go "pass out." With an alarming BAL like .30%, your body will be deciding to pass out for you.) In February 1996, an 18-year-old student died of alcohol poisoning with a BAL of .31% after attending two parties the night before.

So, according to research conducted by the Phoenix House, Mr. Bartz should not have been able to operate a motor vehicle at that blood alcohol concentration. Could the state's breath test machine have been wrong? Did Mr. Bartz' blood alcohol concentration increase after he was stopped? If he had been drinking while driving, did the alcohol in his mouth affect the test result?

Dr. Kurt Dubowski, considered by many to be an expert in the field of alcohol testing, put together this chart showing the effects of alcohol on the body at various concentrations:

(g/100 ml of blood
or g/210 l of breath)
StageClinical symptoms
0.01 - 0.05SubclinicalBehavior nearly normal by ordinary observation
0.03 - 0.12EuphoriaMild euphoria, sociability, talkitiveness
Increased self-confidence; decreased inhibitions
Diminution of attention, judgment and control
Beginning of sensory-motor impairment
Loss of efficiency in finer performance tests
0.09 - 0.25ExcitementEmotional instability; loss of critical judgment
Impairment of perception, memory and comprehension
Decreased sensitory response; increased reaction time
Reduced visual acuity; peripheral vision and glare recovery
Sensory-motor incoordination; impaired balance
0.18 - 0.30ConfusionDisorientation, mental confusion; dizziness
Exaggerated emotional states
Disturbances of vision and of perception of color, form, motion and dimensions
Increased pain threshold
Increased muscular incoordination; staggering gait; slurred speech
Apathy, lethargy
0.25 - 0.40StuporGeneral inertia; approaching loss of motor functions
Markedly decreased response to stimuli
Marked muscular incoordination; inability to stand or walk
Vomiting; incontinence
Impaired consciousness; sleep or stupor
0.35 - 0.50ComaComplete unconsciousness
Depressed or abolished reflexes
Subnormal body temperature
Impairment of circulation and respiration
Possible death
0.45 +DeathDeath from respiratory arrest

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) includes a chart entitled "Common Signs of Alcohol Influence" is its DWI Detection and Standardized Field Sobriety Testing training manual -- the book that most law enforcement agencies use to train their officers in the administration and evaluation of police coordination exercises.

Here are the effects and behaviors at various blood alcohol concentrations per NHTSA:
.03 Slowed reactions

.05 Increased risk taking

.08 Impaired vision

.10 Poor coordination
Once again there are questions about the accuracy of Mr. Bartz' breath test. While the article notes that Mr. Bartz failed the coordination exercises administered by the police (that's a big surprise), it also states that officers found nothing out of the ordinary until they conducted the breath test.

A high breath test may be grounds for some attorneys to recommend an immediate plea because they see no way to win the case. It can also be an opportunity to turn the state's evidence and witnesses against the state and use them to your advantage.


Tim Greene said...

I once pled a client to probation for DWI, in Fort Bend County. He walked across the street from the courtroom to check in with probation. They gave him a breath test, he blew a .36. This was at nine in the morning. I had no clue. The guy was definitely not in a coma.

I will just say that he did have to get treatment as a condition of his probabtion.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment. Just another reason to avoid blowing unless you have no other choice.