PORTABLE BREATH TESTS
The Portable Breath Test
After completing field sobriety tests the officer is going to ask you to submit to a handheld portable breath test (PBT). This device does give a numerical reading, however, this number is not admissible in court. The officer may only testify to whether or not the reading on the portable breath test was positive or negative for the presence of alcohol. Many individuals correctly mistake the portable breath test for the state’s chemical breath test. Only the result of the state’s chemical breath test, or blood test, may be used in court to prove what your blood alcohol concentration was at the time of your arrest.
The purpose of the PBT is to determine if you are under the influence of alcohol, or drugs. If the officer believes you are impaired based on the results of your field sobriety tests he is going to give you the PBT to see how much alcohol is in your system. If the result of the PBT is .08 or higher he is going to ask you to submit to the state’s chemical breath test because he believes you are impaired by alcohol. If the results of the PBT are negative, or it is a low level of alcohol, the officer is going to ask you to submit to the state’s chemical blood test because the officer believes the impairment he saw during your field sobriety tests was caused by drugs, or the combination of drugs and alcohol.
The PBT is entirely voluntary, and there are not any license penalties if you refuse to submit to it the way there are if you refuse to submit to the state’s chemical tests. Simply put, refusing to submit to the PBT will not suspend your driver’s license, or your privilege to drive in the State of Georgia.
Not Admissible In Court
The reading on the Portable Breath Testing machine (Breathalyzer) is not admissible in court. The officer may only testify to whether or not a person was positive or negative for the presence of alcohol—but not the exact numerical reading.
Alcohol, or Drugs?
The purpose of the PBT is to determine whether a DUI suspect is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If an officer believes a motorist is DUI, but the PBT results are negative for the presence of alcohol, the officer must then conduct a further investigation for DUI drugs. On the other hand, if the PBT results are positive, the officer will not conduct a further drug investigation.
Only AFTER Field Sobriety
Unfortunately, many officers use the PBT to cut corners in their DUI investigations. Since the PBT does give a numerical reading, officers will often ask drivers to blow into it before performing the standardized field sobriety test. However, according to regulations, a PBT should always come second.
Also, the officer will sometimes base his entire arrest decision on the results of the PBT instead of the field sobriety tests results coupled with other circumstances. Both of these scenarios are in direct violation of the PBT usage guidelines set forth by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
PBT VS. Breath Testing Machines
Above all, the PBT should not be confused with Georgia’s breath testing machines. Many motorists understandably confuse these tests because they are both breath tests. But, only a breath test that is performed on the state’s breath testing machines, the Intoxilyzer 5000 or 9000, may be introduced into evidence at court.
You CAN Refuse!
Additionally, providing a breath sample into a PBT, or refusing to do so, does not have any implications on your privilege to drive in the State of Georgia in the same way blowing (or refusing to blow) into the state’s breath testing machines does.