Pennies Under the Tongue, and Other DUI Myths

Tags: Criminal Defense, DUI

It’s tough to say where a group from South Carolina went the most wrong in a recent stop for suspicion of DUI after the driver had reportedly swerved off the road in front of a police officer.


An argumentative front seat passenger threatening to call the chief of police didn’t help. Nor did the other passenger passed out in the back seat, clutching an open container of liquor. It also didn’t reflect well upon the driver that he reportedly slurred his speech, failed several field sobriety tests and admitted to consuming a number of beers prior to getting behind the wheel.

However, the one our Birmingham DUI defense lawyers feel most worthy of comment was an effort by the driver to throw the breathalyzer test by sucking on a couple of pennies. The officer discovered the pennies and made the suspect driver spit them out. After that, the driver was ordered to take a breathalyzer, which returned a blood-alcohol reading of 0.08 percent.

Even if the officer had not discovered the pennies, the ploy would have been unsuccessful. While there are many strong arguments to be made against the accuracy of breathalyzer tests, it is an urban myth that they can be thrown by something so simple as sucking on a penny.

Other variants of this myth include:
–Sucking on mints or cough drops;
–Sucking on a nickel;
–Consuming onion or garlic;
–Eating peanuts;
–Eating curry powder;
—Taking a very deep breath just prior to the test;
–Chewing on some tablets of vitamin C.

There have been some versions suggesting these methods might result in a sky-high test result that would ultimately open a window for defendants to make a strong case for a machine malfunction.

To be sure, there have been cases where the machines have returned ridiculously high results and defense attorneys can sometimes challenge those. However, it has nothing to do with whether you were sucking on a penny.

The machines don’t measure the amount of alcohol in your saliva, which would be the only place a penny might have the potential for a chemical reaction. Instead, the machine measures air from deep within your lungs. It’s also fairly standard procedure for officers to wait at least 15 to 20 minutes before issuing a breathalyzer so that they’ve had an opportunity to observe you and ensure you aren’t trying to “trick” the test in anyway.

Interestingly, it is true that diabetics suffering from hypoglycemia could emit levels of naturally-occurring alcohol that might be high enough to tip the breathalyzer scales and make it appear as if he or she is legally drunk.

Breathalyzer errors are quite common, as are the results of field sobriety tests. (Astudy by Clemson University researchers found that officers falsely identified sober drivers as drunk 46 percent of the time.)

But efforts to “beat” the test are not likely to be effective and could be used as evidence against you in court.

Generally, if you have been drinking, it’s a good idea to decline field sobriety tests. You can do so without any legal penalty. You might also consider declining a breathalyzer test, though if you do, recognize that you will be penalized under Alabama law with a mandatory, one-year license suspension. You have to weigh this with the possibility that the test could serve as a powerful tool for prosecutors to secure a DUI conviction against you.


Additional Resources:
Complicated traffic case results in man being charged with DUI, Sept. 25, 2013, Staff Report, T&D
More Blog Entries:
“Vodka Samm” Alcohol Arrest May Highlight Breathalyzer Flaws, Sept. 4, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog

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