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Iowa City OWI Defense Blog

Preliminary Breath Test (PBT)

The PBT is used by peace officers for both suspected OWI stops and public intoxication cases.

This device gives a reasonably accurate reading of blood-alcohol content, but it is NOT accurate enough to be used in a courtroom for an OWI charge.  If the State enters evidence of the PBT results into trial for an Iowa OWI, the evidence will be stricken from the record and a mistrial could occur.

For Public Intoxication cases, however, the results are freely admitted.

Why the difference? Perhaps this makes sense when looking at the severity of the penalties for these two offenses.  Public Intoxication is generally a simple misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and up to 30 days in jail.

OWI first offense is a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail.

But with subsequent Public Intoxication convictions, the crime can rise to an aggravated misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in jail.

So it’s not the punishment or severity of the offense that has caused the results to not be allowed in OWI’s.

Likely the logic rests in the fact that there is no set BAC level that qualifies as “intoxicated” for a Public Intoxication offense.  One person might be intoxicated with a BAC of only 0.06, while a more proficient drinker may seem sober at 0.16.

However, with an OWI, the level of actual “intoxication” does not matter when the BAC exceeds 0.08.  Once a suspect’s BAC exceeds 0.08, that person is deemed “per se” intoxicated regardless of their performance on field sobriety tests or any other sort of observation.  And yet with Public Intoxication, the officer’s observations are important to establish the intoxication.

Visit Iowa Criminal Lawyer Mark Thompson for more information.

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