The DUI Process

Last of three parts

Many DUI charges start the same way.

A police officer observes a traffic infraction – perhaps failing to signal a lane change, failing to stay in lane, or even a non-functioning tail light – and pulls the driver over.

If the officer has reason to suspect the driver is impaired, he or she may conduct field sobriety tests. After the evaluation, if the officer has probable cause, “I place them under arrest,” Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser said.

The officer then has the option of conducting a breath test or having the suspect give a blood sample.

“The district attorney recommends blood,” Mineweaser said.

If the officer decides to go for the blood test, the suspect is taken to Warren General Hospital.

“They have the right to refuse the blood test,” Mineweaser said.

However, in Pennsylvania, refusing to submit to a blood test after a DUI arrest results in a DUI refusal charge and an automatic one-year license suspension on first offense, and harsher punishments if convicted. “They’re looking at more severe penalties,” he said.

If the suspect submits to the test, “the phlebotomist draws the blood,” Mineweaser said. “They give it back to us in a box.”

In the case of Youngsville police, depending on what intoxicating substance they are looking for, they send it to one of two sites for processing.

For an alcohol test, police send the boxed blood to the Pennsylvania State Police Crime Lab in Erie. That lab tests whole blood. Some laboratories that are certified to test blood for alcohol content use serum blood – only the liquid portions of blood.

The type of blood sample was not something most officers were aware of in the past, Mineweaser said.

But serum and whole blood mean something to them now that hundreds of county DUI cases have come into question because of the need for a conversion from serum to whole blood levels, Mineweaser said.

“Did it? No,” he said. “It does now.”

For drugs, the sample is sent to NMS Laboratories in Willow Grove.

The results come back to the police. The crime lab issues its results online, Mineweaser said.

The officer then files charges based on the results and turns the case over to the district attorney.

While the prosecution would like to have a chemical test result available, it is not required for a DUI charge.

“Technically no, you do not have to have a BAC” to make a DUI case, District Attorney Rob Greene said. “That’s why when someone is charged with DUI, they have a minimum of two charges.”

The charges will include a DUI with a blood alcohol rate above the limit as well as “DUI: general impairment – incapable of driving safely.”

Impairment is based on the judgment of the arresting officer.

“You can show that they had slurred speech, staggered gait, bloodshot eyes… signs of impairment.” Greene said.

Generally, “the only time you would use that is if the BAC, for some reason, is thrown out,” Greene said. With a solid BAC, the other charges, with higher penalties, are used.

“If that gets thrown out, you can’t prove the technical DUI,” he said. But, “you can still show that they were incapable of safely driving.”

Charges can be brought even if the BAC is below the legal limit.

“If your BAC is under a .08, technically you can still charge them with incapable of safe driving,” Greene said.