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Article contributed by Durban Law Firm : Fawzia Khan and Associates

Getting stopped by the police on suspicion of driving under influence or even at a routine road block could have major negative consequences for a driver, if he or she consumed alcohol beyond the permissible limit.

So what is the legal limit a person is allowed to consume before taking the wheel? In a nutshell it’s that your blood alcohol concentration cannot be more than 0,05 grams per 100ml. If you are found to have excessive alcohol in your blood stream, these consequences could mean immediate arrest, being placed in police custody until you are sober and off course facing criminal charges.

In order to ascertain a person’s blood alcohol count, there are very strict requirements as to the manner time and handling of the blood specimen. If these requirements are not met, it could affect the result of the analysis and ultimately compromise the integrity of the specimen, with the result that the court will not be able to find a person guilty of the charge/s. These requirements include the following:

  • The blood specimen must be taken within two hours of being stopped by the arresting officer.

  • The blood must be drawn by a registered nurse or a district surgeon.

  • The specimen must be clearly and properly sealed and identified.

  • The needle and receptacle used to draw a person’s blood must have been free from any substance or contamination which could affect the result of the analysis.

  • The registered nurse or district surgeon must have used sterile water to clean the arm from where the specimen of blood was drawn.

  • The container with the specimen of blood must be sent to the Forensic Chemistry Laboratory of the National Department of Health in Durban/Pretoria for analysis.

  • The container itself must have been received at the laboratory with the seal intact.

  • The person who analysed the specimen of blood and recorded the findings must be competent to do so.

  • The Gas Chromatograph and ION Selective Meter that measured the blood alcohol concentration must have been properly calibrated at the time of testing the blood sample.

If all the procedures were followed through and a person is found guilty of the charge of drunk driving or related charges, Section 35 of the Road Traffic Act, prescribes that a convicted person’s driver’s licence be automatically suspended. This means the court is required to impose that sentence over and above any other sentence that the court deems proper. To avoid the automatic suspension of the licence from taking effect, the Act says that an accused person is allowed to present evidence on oath, to explain to the court why the court should not make an order for the automatic suspension of the driver’s licence.

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