By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Urine tests don't measure drugs. Rather, they measure metabolites, which are by-products produced as the body processes controlled substances. In the case of marijuana, metabolites can linger as long as 30 days after the last puff. Cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine metabolites disappear within three days.
Under Arizona law, you're guilty of DUI if you have a metabolite in your system, even if you're not under the influence. "It's a situation where if you've smoked pot in the last 30 days, even if you haven't in the last two weeks, you're still going to get the DUI for that," says Daniel Jaffe, a Scottsdale DUI lawyer. "It really happens. At any given time, I have a case like that."
All right. You've really blown it. You weren't driving terribly, but you flunked the field sobriety tests and got arrested. Maybe you puked and peed your pants in the patrol car. Now it's time for the most important test of all: the blood-alcohol test, which will be given at a police station or a van set up to process DUI suspects.
If you got busted in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe or Scottsdale, you picked the wrong town to drink and drive in. Police in these cities are licensed phlebotomists, and they have their own blood labs. A blood test is considered the most accurate way of determining a person's blood-alcohol level. If, for some reason, they take you to a hospital for the blood test, count your blessings. A hospital won't draw blood if you don't sign a liability waiver that says you won't sue anybody for any reason. In the eyes of the state, you haven't refused a test, so you won't lose your license.
If you got picked up by a state trooper or a Phoenix officer, you'll be blowing into a machine called the Intoxilyzer 5000, which is a defense attorney's delight.
The machine has a 10 percent margin of error, so if it shows you have a .08 blood-alcohol level, you may actually be below the legal limit. A jury might be interested in hearing that you'd just eaten a sandwich. Bread has been shown to inflate breath alcohol readings, as has mouthwash.
The bottom line is, police who use breath tests are doing you a favor. A good DUI lawyer can convince a jury that the results are wrong, especially if it's a borderline case.
Refuse a breath test and you'll find yourself in deeper trouble. Police will call the county jail, where a judge is on duty 24/7, and get a search warrant to draw blood. If necessary, they'll strap you to a chair. They'll then have evidence that's tough to beat in court, and you'll lose your license for a year for refusing the test.
So, how much of this advice might actually work? I decided to get drunk and find out.
Not being cocky, I didn't get soused and hit the highway. I called Ed Loss, the DUI lawyer, who rounded up some experts with Intoxilyzers and a portable breath tester to try the theories. Then I persuaded three co-workers to give it a shot on a recent Saturday morning. Nothing like a drinking binge to start your day.
I was interested in two things: Could I pass the field tests while shit-faced? And what would the breath machines say?
With the Olympic Games as inspiration, I trained. But not too hard, and not too long. Just standing on one leg and walking heel-toe during a few drinking bouts in the days leading up to the main event. I got pretty good. I found out that I was much better at standing on my right leg than on my left, which was good to know, given that the cops let you choose which leg to stand on.
My colleagues didn't prepare at all. It was me against them: Who would do the best on the tests?
The initial results weren't encouraging. Stone sober, three of us, including me, failed at least one of the sobriety tests. Having been up late the night before, drinking, I figured I was just tired. That was why I put my foot down during the one-leg stand. I did not despair. I started drinking.
I gave my colleagues moderate pours of Absolut. I lost track of how much I drank, but it was a lot more than they did. I started with a healthy shot. Then a greyhound. Then another shot. Then more greyhounds. While everyone else was in the living room or out by the pool, I was sneaking drinks in the kitchen. And it showed. I was stirring drinks with my fingers and offering them up. About 90 minutes after we began, my blood-alcohol level was .11, according to the Intoxilyzer. The portable breath tester, however, pegged me at .15.
I tried to hide my smugness as I watched my co-workers fail their tests, even though they weren't legally drunk. The woman who'd passed her tests while sober failed every one, even though her blood-alcohol level was .053 on the Intoxilyzer and .06 on the portable breath test. Then it was my turn.
I aced the walk-and-turn. I failed the one-leg stand, but just barely. Chuck Laroue, a Bisbee private investigator, decreed that my toes weren't sufficiently pointed and that I'd swayed once. He allowed that it was a close call, but he was grading strictly, as an officer would at roadside. "They're looking to fail you," he warned. Using a blank form from the Chandler Police Department, I reviewed the instructions officers must read to suspects before administering the test: Nowhere does it say that a suspect's toes must be pointed.