A preliminary screening is not the same as a Breathalyzer

Let’s say you’re driving along an Illinois highway when a police officer pulls you over. Your first thought may be that you were traveling a few miles over the posted speed limit. Then the lunch you just had with a few friends suddenly comes to mind, because you enjoyed a couple of beers with your meal. That seemingly innocent event now has you worried as the officer approaches your window.

Does consuming a drink or two at a social gathering mean you’re breaking the law if you get behind the wheel? The answer depends on several factors, most importantly how much alcohol is in your bloodstream at the time of your traffic stop. If the police officer standing at your window asks you to get out of your car, you can bet he or she suspects you of DUI.

However, before a police officer can place you in handcuffs and arrest you, they must have probable cause to believe you were driving drunk. To determine probable cause, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests or administer a preliminary alcohol screening. Unlike a chemical test, however, you are not legally obligated to submit to either of these tests. They are optional.

What about administrative penalties?

When you obtained an Illinois driver’s license, you consented to take a Breathalyzer, blood or urine test when a police officer lawfully requests one. Refusing to take a chemical test in a DUI investigation places you at risk for administrative penalties, including automatic and immediate driver’s license suspension.

However, a Breathalyzer isn’t the same as a portable preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device. Officers typically use PAS tests to detect the presence of alcohol on someone’s breath at a traffic stop. If the device positively detects alcohol on your breath, the officer has probable cause to take you down to the police station or nearest hospital for further testing.

While refusing to cooperate when a police officer asks you to take a field test may complicate your situation, you are within your rights to refuse to comply. If you refuse a Breathalyzer or other chemical test, however, you could face automatic penalties like license suspension.

Always remember, being charged with DUI doesn’t mean you are automatically guilty of it. There are many factors that could register a false reading on both the PAS device or Breathalyzer machine. There may be several defense options available to help you mitigate such circumstances.