Friday, March 30, 2012

To PBT or not to PBT: Does Lisa Steed Know the Answer?

Posted By on March 30, 2012, 1:00 AM

Utah Highway Patrol trooper Lisa Steed is no stranger to publicity—both good and bad. The former enshrined her as Utah's greatest asset in the fight against DUIs. The latter has revealed her working practices to be troubling and some of her busts questionable.---

City Weekly shone a light on Steed's practices in Supertrooper back in 2010. On Tuesday, she admitted in court that, in one case at least, she violated UHP policy. 

What was particularly interesting about what she admitted to was that not only did she deliberately leave her microphone in the car when approaching a driver she had pulled over, she did so in order that her supervisor would not know she used a portable breath test—PBT as it's known in DUI enforcement and attorney circles—to test a driver she had pulled over.

In DUI enforcement, if the PBT is used wrongly, says DUI attorney Jason Schatz, it can effectively render a driver guilty in an officer's mind from the get-go.

The problem is that PBTs are not UHP-approved. "They are the last thing done before making an arrest," he says, not the first. But officers, as Steed did in this current case, use it to see if it's worth getting a driver to get out of the car or not.

The PBT is effectively a fuel cell that measures alcohol on the breath. That's only a small piece of the picture when it comes to assessing a driver's possible intoxication. A burp or belch, as well as lower temperatures in winter, can all impact the accuracy of what the PBT measures.

If a trooper uses it at the beginning of a stop, he or she is "putting the blinders on," Schatz argues.

So if someone blows .20 on a PBT, which is above the limit, then a trooper, he continues, will have convinced themselves that the driver is impaired, whether the PBT is accurate or not. So the trooper, in their own mind, "knows the answer before you take the field-sobriety test." And if the driver, who may have just chugged a beer and then jumped in his car, confident that he's way below the limit, is caught by a trooper minutes later with the alcohol still in his mouth, he might find himself facing a decidedly dim future.

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