State v. Forney: Chewing Gum, Breath Tests, and Prejudice

In impaired driving cases, the results of a breath test of the defendant are admissible at trial when the testing is performed in accordance with statutory requirements and applicable administrative regulations. G.S. 20-139.1(b). When the testing is not carried out as required, however, the results are inadmissible. See State v. Davis, 208 N.C. App. 26, 34 (2010).

Among the testing requirements is that the law enforcement officer carrying out the test observe the defendant to determine that he or she “has not ingested alcohol or other fluids, regurgitated, vomited, eaten, or smoked in the 15 minutes immediately prior to the collection of a breath specimen.” See 10A NCAC 41B .0101(6) (defining “observation period” and specifying further that “[d]ental devices or oral jewelry need not be removed”); 10A NCAC 41B .0322 (requiring that observation periods be met before breath test is conducted). The purpose of the observation period is to ensure that the test results reflect the concentration of alcohol in a sample of the person’s deep lung breath rather than an alcohol concentration based on alcohol in the person’s mouth.

Last week, the Court of Appeals in State v. Forney, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ____ (January 16, 2024), considered whether tests results from a defendant who had chewing gum in his mouth during the observation period were admissible under G.S. 20-139.1(b).

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State v. Daniel Tees Up An Analysis of Prejudice

North Carolina’s implied-consent laws were substantially amended in 2006 to, in the words of the Governor’s task force recommending the change, “prevent dismissals under Knoll.” In State v. Knoll, 422 N.C. 535 (1988), the court ordered that charges of impaired driving against defendants in three separate cases be dismissed because the magistrate in each case … Read more