Why Are EtG Tests Performed?
An EtG test, short for ethyl glucuronide test, is commonly performed on DWI probationers to determine if they have consumed alcohol. Many probationers are required to refrain from drinking while on probation in Michigan. An EtG test can be administered as part of a scheduled test or without telling you in advance that you will be tested.
If an EtG comes up positive for alcohol, a probation violation may be filed against you. A probation violation should always be taken seriously as it can result in additional penalties, including jail time or complete revocation of your probation. If your probation officer informs you that you have failed an EtG test, you should contact a Michigan criminal defense attorney immediately. Failing an EtG test alone doesn’t mean the court will find that you are in violation of your probation, but failing to defend the failed test will likely ensure a finding that you are in violation.
How Does An EtG Test Work?
There are two basic types of tests that can be administered to check for alcohol consumption. Both types use biomarkers, or physiological indicators, to check for signs that the body has been exposed to alcohol. Indirect biomarkers, such as red blood cells, are used when looking for signs of heavy or ongoing alcohol consumption. Direct biomarkers, such as blood and breath, are used to check for recent consumption. The EtG test uses your urine, a direct biomarker, to check for alcohol consumption within the last 80 hours. While this all sounds very scientific, the reliability of the EtG test itself has been called into question by some very reputable sources such as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The EtG test was marketed as highly reliable and extremely sensitive when it hit the market just after the turn of the century. Law enforcement, courts and probation departments across the country started using the test to check for alcohol use. Employers also began implementing the test as a screening device or for random safety checks. Not long after its debut, however, the test came under fire as being considerably less reliable than advertised.
Michigan EtG Test Problems
Despite that fact that the EtG test is treated as an acceptable and reliable method of checking for alcohol consumption, it is far from reliable. Given the fact that people stand to lose their freedom as the result of the test, its accuracy should be beyond question. On the contrary though, SAMHSA itself issued a 2006 advisory warning that the test is “scientifically unsupportable” and “should not be used as the sole basis for legal or disciplinary action.”
The bad news is that Michigan probation officials still use the test to check for alcohol consumption. The good news is that the issues surrounding the accuracy of the test can potentially provide you with a defense if you failed the test. SAMHSA is not the only organization questioning the reliability of the EtG test either. A 2009 scientific study done in Sweden and published in Forensic Science International also concluded that the EtG test is not a reliable method of concluding that someone has consumed alcohol.
The main problem with the EtG test is that the test is actually too sensitive. While it does detect alcohol in urine, it cannot determine the source of the alcohol. In other words, using hand sanitizer (which can be over 50 percent alcohol) may be just as likely to cause a positive test result as drinking a beer. The bottom line is that this unreliable test should not be used as the sole basis for determining that you have violated your DUI probation.
What Can You Do If You Failed the EtG Test?
The first and most important thing you can do if you are informed that you failed an EtG test is to contact an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney. Just as when you are accused of a crime, you have the right to defend yourself when you are accused of violating a condition of your probation. You have the right to challenge the reliability of the test used as evidence against you.
You have the right to due process when accused of a probation violation. This means that you are entitled to a hearing before the court. Unlike a criminal trial, the prosecutor does not have to prove the violation beyond a reasonable doubt, though. Instead, the prosecutor must show that you likely violated your probation. Challenging the validity of the EtG test results can cast doubt on the likelihood of the violation.