Refusing a Field Sobriety Test and Explaining Ohio BAC Levels

What Does BAC Mean?

Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) measures how much alcohol a person has in his or her system. While BAC measurements are far from perfect, they are an accepted method across the United States for drawing the line between being sober and being impaired. When a person drinks alcohol, it ends up in the bloodstream, after being absorbed from the small intestine and the lining of the stomach. Alcohol takes a certain amount of time to be absorbed—as it is absorbed into the bloodstream, it eventually reaches the brain, resulting in intoxication. Across the United States and in Ohio, the legal BAC limit is 0.08 percent.

There are a number of factors which affect a person’s BAC, including the amount of food consumed prior to drinking alcohol, the age, height and weight of the person, the specific type of alcohol and whether it was carbonated, and how quickly the alcohol was consumed. Medications being taken by a person can significantly affect the BAC as well as some diseases or illnesses. Even the amount of sleep and how many other fluids were consumed along with the alcohol can have a bearing on a person’s BAC. Further, some people simply have a metabolism which allows them to flush alcohol from their bodies more quickly than others.

How BAC May Affect Individuals

In some instances, a person’s BAC may continue to rise even after they have stopped drinking alcoholic beverages. Because of this, a person could conceivably be less drunk when they were initially pulled over than hours later when a breathalyzer was administered. Blood alcohol content is measured by the weight of ethyl alcohol contained in a specific volume of blood. The first effects of intoxication are mild relaxation and possible lightheadedness. These effects typically occur when the BAC is at 0.02 percent to 0.04 percent. When a person’s BAC reaches 0.06 percent, the typical effects are increased talkativeness, an intensification of your existing mood, a degree of impairment of judgment, increased relaxation and possible euphoria.

At 0.08 percent BAC, most people will exhibit clear impairment of their normal judgment and muscle coordination, and may exhibit sight, hearing and self-control impairments. At 0.10 to 0.20 percent BAC, most people will exhibit some degree of drunkenness and will have highly impaired balance, memory, judgment and muscle functions. Once a person’s BAC reaches 0.20 and above, the person may vomit, blackout, or fail to notice or respond to injuries. At 0.30, passing out and failure to be roused occurs, and death from alcohol poisoning could potentially occur. A person with a BAC of 0.35 percent may stop breathing, and those with a 0.40 percent BAC or higher could lapse into a coma and die.

Factors Which Can Affect BAC

As noted, there are a number of factors which can affect BAC levels, including the following: 

  • How fast drinks are consumed—the faster you drink, the quicker your peak BAC will rise. Most people’s liver can metabolize alcohol at a rate of one standard drink per hour. One standard drink is either a 12-ounce beer, 5 ounces of wine, or half an ounce of 80-proof liquor such as vodka, whiskey, rum or gin. When a person drinks more than one drink per hour, the liver is unable to keep pace, and the excess alcohol circulates in the bloodstream until the liver is able to catch up. Since the more alcohol is in the bloodstream, the higher the BAC, the faster drinks are consumed, the higher the BAC.
  • Body weight—Men have more blood to dilute alcohol because they are typically larger (although even men of the same weight as women still have a bit more blood to dilute the alcohol consumed) This means smaller people are more likely to have a higher BAC even when they have drunk considerably less alcohol.
  • Food in the stomach—When there is food in the stomach, alcohol is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream, therefore the BAC of a person who had a full meal prior to drinking will be lower than a person who drank the same amount but ate nothing.
  • Type of mix used—Most people are unaware that carbonated drinks tend to speed alcohol through the stomach and intestines into the bloodstream, so mixing alcohol with water or fruit juices results in a lower BAC than mixing alcohol with a bubbly drink.
  • Medications—There are certain medications which tend to amplify the effects of alcohol on the body, resulting in a higher BAC, such as cough medicines, anti-depressants, tranquilizers and aspirin.

Are Field Sobriety Tests Accurate?

A few years back, a New Hampshire man was successful in his bid to have his DUI conviction overturned based on his assertion that his obesity unfairly played a role in his arrest. In this particular case, Jaimil Choudhry was arrested and subsequently convicted after failing a field sobriety test. Choudhry’s attorney argued that his client was unable to properly perform the one-leg balance test at his current height of 5’10” and weight of 230, and the judge agreed.

Do Field Sobriety Tests Accurately Reflect Impairment?

Choudhry’s case is not the only instance of an attorney arguing on their client’s behalf that weight—or other factors—play a part in DUI convictions. Considering that even in healthy individuals the one-leg stand test is considered to be only 65% accurate and the walk-and-turn test only 68% accurate in determining impairment, when you add other factors to the mix these tests can be considered extremely imprecise. Further, a person’s weight has been found to impact the BAC concentration; fatty cells absorb very little alcohol, meaning the heavier the person, the more alcohol will be left unabsorbed in the bloodstream and the BAC will test higher.

Other Reasons for the Failure of a Field Sobriety Test

Aside from obesity or overweight, there are a number of reasons a person could perform poorly on a field sobriety test, including:

  • Being elderly
  • Levels of physical activity
  • Being prone to clumsiness
  • Being nervous or scared
  • In the case of females, wearing high heels
  • Having a history of back or leg injuries
  • Taking certain medications
  • Suffering from a specific illness or weakness

Women, in particular, could be at a distinct disadvantage when asked to perform field sobriety tests. A woman may be wearing a short skirt or high heels which make it difficult to perform the tests. Most people are asked to perform the field sobriety tests on the side of the road which is usually uneven and rocky. If the stop occurs at night-time and the officer is male, the woman could be extremely nervous and fearful for her safety. Despite all this, there is an undue amount of emphasis put on field sobriety tests during a DUI trial, resulting in innocent people being found guilty of DUI.

Getting the Help You Need for Your Ohio DUI

A skilled Ohio DUI attorney from Horwitz & Horwitz has the skills and experience necessary to fight your charges, using your individual circumstances when appropriate. Never assume you will be found guilty of DUI charges; there is a good chance an experienced Horwitz & Horwitz DUI attorney can help protect your rights and your future. Contact a Horwitz & Horwitz DUI attorney today.