Alcohol Tests in North Carolina DWI Cases


DWI’s are some of the most common cases in the North Carolina Criminal Justice System. When charged with a DWI one of the most important pieces of evidence is the results from the alcohol test that was performed, this evidence can often make or break the outcome of the case and it is important to have a knowledgeable and experienced attorney on your side to assist you in dealing with this kind of evidence. If you have been charged with a DWI call the criminal defense team at Jetton and Meredith today.

In North Carolina there are three main types of alcohol tests that come into play during a DWI investigation; the preliminary breath test, the breath or intox test, and a blood test. Each test has its own set of rules that must be followed in order to be valid and each test has different rules for how they can or cannot be used in court.

  1. The Preliminary Breath Test

Commonly referred to as the PBT, the preliminary breath test is done on a hand-held machine that most patrol officers carry with them. This test is done on the roadside and can only be used to confirm the presence of probable cause for arrest. Due to the nature of these kinds of interactions with the police, for this test to be valid the police will either need to undergo an observation period or more commonly they get two separate tests more than five (5) minutes apart from each other.

It is important to know that regardless of whether the test is done in a valid manner, the Judge can never hear the number of results that the test produces. The only result that may be reported to the judge from these tests is whether it is positive or negative for the presence of alcohol, with positive being any result of .08 or higher.

Finally, while a refusal to take this test can be used as evidence to assist the officer in obtaining probable cause to arrest, it cannot be used for DMV purposes.

  1. The Breath or Intox Test

The next test that is commonly offered after the PBT is the intox test. This test is commonly completed on a machine called the ECIR-II. The ECIR-II looks like a very old computer with a tube coming out of the side of it. This is the primary test used for proving a person’s BAC after they are charged with a DWI.

The Intox test must be completed by someone who is certified as a chemical analyst by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. This means that not every officer can run or even start the testing procedure. This machine requires the person charged with a DWI to submit two different samples to the test. It will report the results of the test as a number value, with the legal limit being .07, any number higher than that being illegal.

There are two important distinctions between this test and the PBT test. First, the judge or jury can hear the numerical results of this test, they are admissible as evidence in the case against you. Second, if you refuse to take this test the DMV will be notified, and based on this refusal, they can suspend your license for a period of one year, regardless if you blew in the PBT or not.

  1. The Blood Test

The final kind of alcohol test is a blood test. This is an option for the police immediately after arrest if they feel it is necessary, or if you refuse the Intox test they can secure a warrant and have your blood drawn for this test. If the police ask for your blood before asking for the Intox test, the same rules for refusal and reporting to the DMV are in control.

If they are going to get your blood it must be taken by someone who is certified to do so, such as a nurse in the ER. It is important to know that the courts have ruled that in challenging this part of the test if the person who takes your blood looks like a nurse and is wearing the appropriate clothing and/or identification the drawing of the blood will be upheld.

Finally, once blood is taken, it is sent to a lab where a certified lab analyst will get a numerical result for the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. This number will be reported similarly to your breath alcohol content and can be put in front of the judge for their consideration during trial.

DWIs are complex cases that can have long-standing implications on your life, your insurance, and your driver’s license. Often in these kinds of cases, the results of an alcohol test play a key role in the determination of guilty or not guilty. Having an attorney who is knowledgeable and experienced in fighting these kinds of cases and fighting to keep these results out can make a difference in your case. If you have been charged with a DWI call the criminal defense team at Jetton and Meredith today!