“Vodka Samm” Alcohol Arrest May Highlight Breathalyzer Flaws

Tags: Criminal Defense, DUI

Recently, a female college student in Iowa was one of more than a dozen arrested for public intoxication at a home football game after she tried to rush onto the field.


This would likely avoid any noteworthy mention but for a few facts:
1. She is a younger, attractive female;
2. She has a large social media following (even larger now), with many better acquainted with her online moniker, “Vodka Samm”;
3. She reportedly registered a 0.341 blood-alcohol content when she underwent a breathalyzer, which is more than four times the legal limit for driving.

Our Birmingham DUI lawyers know that because she wasn’t behind the wheel at the time of her arrest, the potential consequences she faces are far less severe. The reason this case interests us – and why it might interest you – is that such a reading on a breathalyzer is suspiciously high.

In fact, a blood-alcohol content reading of between 0.30 and 0.40 is characterized by health officials as: “Extremely life-threatening. You have little comprehension of where you are. You may pass out suddenly and be difficult to awaken. Complete unconsciousness. Coma possible. This is the level of surgical anesthesia.”

Anything over 0.45 percent BAC will likely occur in death, according to this same source.

And yet, that is not the kind of description we get when we read both the defendant’s accounting of what occurred, as well as the police report.

University of Iowa police arrested her for allegedly being unruly. A mug shot taken at the university jail appears to show her looking somewhat disheveled, but certainly not unconscious. She even tweeted from jail, bragging about her 0.341 BAC, a number she vowed to have tattooed on her skin as a reminder of how “epic” it was.

We suspect she’ll likely rethink this later, especially after the story went viral when picked up by The New York Post, the Huffington Post and The Daily Mail. Still, it begs the question of how accurate breathalyzer results truly are.

Breathalyzer results are tabulated by measuring the amount of alcohol content in your lungs. While many law enforcement agencies consider them to be “generally reliable,” they are not full-proof. One of the major flaws in certain machines is that they identify ethyl alcohol (or ethanol) that is found in alcoholic beverages, but also in other substances that have similar molecular structure. Examples could include gasoline or paint fumes.

Breathalyzer tests may also be thrown if they aren’t properly calibrated regularly. This was the identified problem behind hundreds of DUI cases in D.C. in which the results were improperly skewed high. This prompted a number of lawsuits and the local police department scrapped the program all together for two years.

Similar cases have cropped up across the country in recent years.

This is not to say that every DUI case will have a valid breathalyzer challenge, but there is enough of an opportunity that it is likely worth exploring. This is true whether your results were sky-high or just a few points higher than the legal maximum threshold.


Additional Resources:
An Iowa Woman Had a Blood Alcohol Content of .341. Is That Even Possible?Sept. 4, 2013, By Justin Peters, Slate.com
More Blog Entries:
Field Sobriety Tests Only One Piece of the Puzzle in Alabama DUI Cases, Aug. 25, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog

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