Most states have established the blood alcohol limit for DUI charges at .08 percent. If you’re asked to take a breathalyzer test and blow something below a .08, you might find yourself thinking that you’re off the hook. This is, however, not always the case.
Recent DUI cases in Washington and Oregon have seen convictions for drivers who were stopped on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and and delivered BAC readings below the .08 limit imposed by the states. In one case, an Oregon driver blew a .07 reading, but the officer pushed for DUI charges anyway, since the driver had failed several field sobriety tests prior to submitting to a breathalyzer test. The jury found him guilty despite the low reading.
In cases like these, the officer has to decide whether there are other factors beyond the blood alcohol content reading that indicate intoxicated driving. Most commonly, the justification for proceeding with a DUI charge in these cases is the inability of the breathalyzer to detect the presence of substances other than alcohol in the driver’s system. If a driver has been drinking and using marijuana or other drugs, a BAC reading of .07 combined with the effect of the other drugs could substantially impair their ability to drive beyond what would be equivalent to the .08 limit.
Officers need to gather enough evidence to suggest that you were too impaired to drive in these situations. Police don’t need to find drugs in your possession to prove that you had recently used them. A drug test may or may not be ordered, depending on whether there is enough evidence without it to justify a conviction. Failed field sobriety tests can contribute to the case against you, as well as any traffic violations or unsafe driving that was observed to cause the officer to stop you in the first place. Your behavior during the stop can also be used against you. In the Oregon case, the stopped driver interrupted police during a field sobriety test to take a call on his cell phone. Drivers who are rude or confrontational risk making the case against them stronger.
Even if the officer does not decide to issue DUI charges for a below-limit BAC reading, you can still face other fines and charges for how you were driving. If you were stopped for breaking any laws, you can expect to be issued a ticket for that. If your driving is considered unsafe by the officer, you might even be hit with charges of reckless driving or endangerment depending on the circumstances. In these cases, a BAC reading slightly below the limit may still be used against you if you decide to fight the charges.