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What does an 'odor' of alcohol mean for my DUI arrest?

Officers will almost always indicate that they smelled an “odor of alcohol” coming from the vehicle (or the driver) when setting out facts to justify a DUI arrest. But it is interesting to know what such an odor actually smells like. This is because alcohol, by itself, doesn’t have a smell. In fact, the strongest alcoholic beverages (i.e. vodka, gin, bourbon) do not have distinctive smells, unless they are flavored.

Indeed, a person who has consumed a beer or had a glass of wine could have alcohol on their breath, but the smell of alcohol alone does not, and usually cannot, tell an officer how much you have had to drink, how long ago you consumed it or whether you are actually impaired. 

According to the website alcoholrehab.com, the smell of alcohol could be a sign of overindulgence, but it may also be a sign of other medical ailments as well. For instance, a person suffering from diabetes could have what may be considered alcohol on his or her breath, but at the same time may not have had anything to drink.

With that said, it may be important to challenge the officer’s observations when considering the reasons given for ordering a driver from their vehicle and having them perform field sobriety tests and breathalyzer tests, as each of these additional steps are designed to give the police enough information (i.e. probable cause) to justify an arrest. If this information is proven to be faulty and incomplete, the arrest may be proven unjustified.

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