California’s DUI laws can be complex and confusing. In this section, our attorneys break down the rules and explain the process.
Can chemical testing be done by urine in a DUI case?
Yes. Some jurisdictions allow police to administer urine tests in DUI cases to check if motorists have drugs or alcohol in their system. However, urine testing is sometimes less reliable than other forms of testing (for example blood tests or breath tests) and are considered less practical to administer.
Police most often ask for a urine test if:
Urine testing is largely considered less reliable because of the calculations used to convert alcohol concentration in a person’s urine to a person’s blood alcohol concentration, or “BAC.”
As to practicality issues, some people suspected of DUI:
In comparison, note that with blood or breath tests, law enforcement simply ask a suspect to:
Many states say that law enforcement can conduct chemical testing by urine in both:
Police can use urine testing to help determine if drivers suspected of DUI/DUID have drugs or alcohol in their system.
Note, though, that while many states provide urine testing as an option to police, officers often still prefer testing via:
This is because urine tests are considered both less reliable and less practical when compared to other forms of testing.
Urine testing is often considered less reliable than blood or breath tests because of conversions used in testing procedures.
That is to say that certain calculations must be made for law enforcement and drug labs to determine a driver’s blood alcohol content via the alcohol concentration in the motorist’s urine.
These calculations are performed because the amount of alcohol in a person’s urine is slightly greater than the amount of alcohol in e blood.
A problem, though, is that the figures used to make the necessary calculations and conversions are not well agreed upon. The testing then is considered less reliable because there are inherent questions in how results are obtained.
Note that criminal defense attorneys and DUI lawyers can use this latter fact to help challenge any DUI or DUID charges that a driver may face.
Some states have resolved reliability issues regarding urine testing by using “urine alcohol level concentrations” to help determine when a person is intoxicated.
States use these concentrations in a similar manner as using blood alcohol levels for DUI purposes.
Note that 49 states say that motorists are guilty of drunk driving when they operate a motor vehicle with a BAC of .08%. Utah uses a BAC level of .05% to determine intoxication.[i]
Similarly, in states that use a urine alcohol level concentration (Ohio for instance), most say that a driver is guilty of drunk driving with a urine alcohol concentration level of .11% or greater.[ii]
Some of these states have also set urine concentration levels for drug cases.
There are a few practical problems with police issuing urine tests. For example, if people suspected of DUI claim that they cannot give a urine sample because they are not able to urinate, then there is really nothing an officer can do. These suspects may or may not be telling the truth.
There are also some privacy issues. Law enforcement would have to observe people giving a sample to ensure that the sample is not tampered with. Some suspects might take offense to police watching them urinate.
In comparison to urine tests, blood and breath tests are easier for police to administer. For instance, authorities simply have to ask a person to:
As to breath tests, note that all jurisdictions have implied consent laws. These laws say that drivers suspected of driving while intoxicated must submit to a breath test.
Drivers that do not submit to such testing typically receive harsher penalties than those that agree to the test. Examples of steeper penalties include:
Under California law, when drivers are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, police must generally give the parties the choice of a:
A DUI urine test is only offered if:
If a urine test is given, police must follow certain procedures and protocols.
Note that these tests have the same issues regarding reliability and practicality as discussed above. Further, if a test is administered, a California DUI attorney can usually challenge it based on these issues.
As to implied consent, note that California’s implied consent law makes it mandatory for any driver in the State, who has been lawfully arrested for DUI, to submit to a breath test to determine his/her blood alcohol concentration.[v]
A driver that violates this law (that is, refuses to take a breath test) will receive certain penalties. These include:
California’s implied consent law used to apply to DUI blood tests as well as to breath tests. But the Supreme Court of the United States suggested that defendants may not be penalized for refusing to take blood tests in cases where the police have not obtained a warrant.
[i] See alcohol.org website, “BAC Legal Limits in Different States, Counties, & Cities.”
[iii] California Vehicle Code 23612(a)(2)(A) VC.
[v] See California Vehicle Code 23612 VC.
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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