DWI Stops & Testing: Blood Alcohol Concentration

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What is Blood Alcohol Concentration? BAC or blood alcohol concentration refers to the percent of alcohol in a person’s blood. As an example, a BAC of .10 percent means the person’s blood contains one-part alcohol for every 1000 parts of blood. In every state in the Untied States, including Texas, a person is considered legally intoxicated with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent or higher. In Texas, there is a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, meaning a younger driver is not allowed to have any detectable level of alcohol in his or her blood. For those with a commercial driver’s license, the legal limit is 0.04 percent, regardless of whether the driver is in a commercial vehicle or his or her own personal vehicle.

A breathalyzer machine actually estimates the blood alcohol concentration, based on the body’s metabolism of alcohol. About 92-98 percent of an alcoholic beverage moves through the digestive system where it is broken down by the liver, meaning 2-8 percent is lost via other processes, including breathing. The amount of alcohol collected in a person’s lungs will correlate to the amount of undigested alcohol in the bloodstream, at a ratio of 2,100 breath to 1 blood. Therefore, 2,100 milliliters of alcohol in an exhale will correlate to about 1 milliliter of alcohol in the blood. A breathalyzer can detect alcohol up to 24 hours after the person stops drinking, although the machine cannot determine how high a person’s BAC was in the past. A blood test can only detect alcohol in the blood for about 12 hours after the last drink.

A person’s liver generally metabolizes one “regular” drink per hour, therefore one to two “regular” drinks will raise the BAC anywhere from 0.01 percent to 0.05 percent depending on individual factors such as age, gender, the amount of time in which the drinks were consumed, whether the person ate prior to drinking, the person’s weight and any prescription medications being taken. Two to three alcoholic drinks will raise a person’s BAC to between 0.06 percent and 0.10 percent, again, depending on individual factors. A urine test can detect alcohol from between 12 and 48 hours after the last drink, but would not give an accurate assessment of the BAC soon after the last drink.  While rarely used, a hair test can detect alcohol consumptions for up to 90 days after the last drink.

What is a “Standard” or “Regular” Drink? A standard drink is considered one twelve-ounce beer (4.5 percent alcohol), one five-ounce glass of wine (12 percent alcohol), one 1.5-ounce shot of hard liquor (40 percent alcohol), or one-third of a jigger—1/2 ounce—of Everclear (95 percent alcohol). A twelve-ounce margarita can be equal to 2-4 standard or regular drinks, depending on the ingredients, and a single Long Island Iced Tea can also be equal to 2-4 standard drinks. This means that drinking a large margarita after work during Happy Hour, could easily put you over the legal BAC limit of 0.08 percent.

Effects of Alcohol at Various BAC Levels - At BAC levels between 0.04 percent and 0.06 percent, most people will feel relaxed, have a sensation of warmth, and may have very minor cognitive impairments, particularly in reasoning and memory. A BAC level between 0.07 percent and 0.09 percent could potentially result in a mild impairment in speech, vision, balance and control, as well as a mild impairment in reasoning. Those with a BAC level between .10 percent and .12 percent can exhibit slurred speech and more significant impairment of motor coordination and judgment.  A BAC level between .13 and .15 results in gross impairment of motor control, loss of balance, slurred speech and blurry vision, and at .16 percent to .20 percent, the person may have all the same impairments as well as nausea.

A BAC of .25 to .30 is considered severe intoxication, with mental confusion, nausea, vomiting, major loss of balance and cognitive impairments, and a BAC between .35 and .40 can place a person on the brink of a coma, or, at the very least can result in loss of consciousness. These numbers are somewhat subjective in that many factors are involved in how well a person can handle his or her alcohol. Those who rarely drink may have a loss of balance and slurred speech after one drink, while those who drink on a regular basis, might be able to have several mixed drinks with no discernible effect. This is not to say you should chance it by driving after you have had several drinks, only that the outward effects of alcohol consumption will be different for different people.

Blood Alcohol Concentration in the State of Texas - You might be surprised to know that it is not actually illegal to drink and drive, so long as your BAC is not over the legal limit of 0.08 percent, or you are not exhibiting a loss of physical or mental faculties. In other words, your BAC could be under 0.08, but if the officer observed a significant loss of physical or mental faculties, then you could still be convicted of a Texas DWI.

On the other hand, if you “hold your liquor well,” you may actually have a BAC over the legal limit, but if you don’t appear impaired to the officer, he or she may not test your BAC, and may let you drive home. In fact, most people vastly underestimate the effect alcohol has had on their ability to drive—a significant number of those who ended up with a DWI conviction will say they were “just fine” to drive and were exhibiting no noticeable effects. The police officer may have felt differently after observing the driver.

Misconceptions Regarding BAC Levels - There are many misconceptions regarding Texas BAC levels, with the most common being the 0.08 percent legal limit. Some people believe this number means they had 8 percent alcohol in their body. In fact, a person with 3 percent of alcohol in their body would almost certainly die. BAC is calculated by dividing the number of milliliters of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or 210 liters of breath. Most people also believe there is no significant impairment at the legal limit of 0.08 percent. This will depend on the person’s weight, gender, food consumed, tolerance to alcohol, how quickly the alcohol was consumed, and any drugs the person is taking. Many people also believe you can “sleep off” alcohol consumption, In fact, if you went to sleep at 2:00 a.m. with a BAC of .20 (significantly intoxicated), and you were pulled over between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. that morning as you drove to work, it is likely you would still be considered legally drunk, testing at 0.08 percent BAC or above.

How a Sullo & Sullo Houston DWI Attorney Can Help - If you have been arrested on suspicion of DWI in Texas, be aware that the penalties for a conviction are harsh. Having an experienced Sullo & Sullo Houston criminal defense attorney by your side from beginning to end for your DWI in Texas can give you the best chance for the most positive outcome possible. Following your Harris County arrest, the Harris County District Attorney is likely to aggressively pursue a conviction. Our Houston DWI attorneys will aggressively defend your rights and your future, offering Houston criminal lawyer free consultations in an effort to help you avoid Harris County jail and Harris County criminal records. Do not wait—contact Sullo & Sullo today.

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