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Blood-Alcohol Physiology

Blood-alcohol analysis is simply the attempt to measure the percentage by weight of alcohol within the DUI suspect’s blood at the time of testing. This is done directly when dealing with a blood sample, or indirectly by analyzing the percentage in a breath or urine sample and applying conversion ratios to estimate the percentage in the blood; these conversion ratios used in DUI cases are inaccurate in that they simply represent statistical averages.

In dealing with a charge of violating Vehicle Code section 23152(b), driving with 0.08% blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) or more, the amount of alcohol in the blood at the time of driving is the only issue. Where, however, the DUI charge is violation of Vehicle Code Section 23152(a) (and it is common to charge both offenses), the amount of alcohol in the blood is of only secondary interest. It is the amount of alcohol actually absorbed into the brain that will affect the individual’s ability to perceive, make judgments, and coordinate movements; the individual’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle. But in DUI cases there is no practical means of measuring the alcohol absorbed by the body beyond that found in the bloodstream or, even further removed, in the urine or breath. Since the bones, brain, and fatty tissue contain a much lower percentage of water than does blood, and since the alcohol level in blood is about 17 percent higher than that in the soft tissues, the concentration of alcohol in the entire body, including the brain, is always less than that in the blood. However, science has offered the “Widmark Factor R,” a designation of the ratio between the concentration of alcohol in the whole body divided by the concentration of alcohol in the blood. This ratio averages about .67 for men, with a range of .46 to .86; women usually have a somewhat lower ratio because of having a larger proportion of fatty tissue. Obviously, the fact that this ratio varies so widely according to the individual makes generalizations in a given DWI case very suspect.

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