Are you Subject to Random Alcohol Testing by the Probation Department?

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Here is what you need to know about the ETG Test

The EtG test is used to measure alcohol levels in urine by detecting Ethyl Glucuronide, a metabolite produced from drinking alcohol and is being used by courts and probation departments as a way of testing if people are drinking.

How EtG Testing Works

Unlike breathalyzers and blood tests that look for the direct presence of alcohol in your bloodstream and are meant to be more immediate in detecting alcohol in your system, an EtG test can supposedly detect alcohol metabolites in your body for up to three to five days after drinking. In theory, this is similar to the way other drug testing such as marijuana testing works—even if you are not under the influence of marijuana, or in this case, alcohol, at the time of testing, the presence of certain metabolites can indicate that the substance has been used.


The idea is that if you have been ordered by the court to abstain from drinking, an EtG test will reveal whether you have actually consumed alcohol or not, even if the drinks were consumed more than a couple of days prior. However, the EtG test has been known to produce false-positives, and scientists, doctors, and officials at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) have questioned the reliability of the results.

ETG Test Reliability and False Positives

The EtG has come under scrutiny for producing false positives. A false-positive can have devasting effects to a person on pre-trial conditions or release or on probation.


The EtG test is designed to detect even minuscule amounts of ethyl alcohol metabolites. Exposure to ethanol can come from sources other than drinking. Because of this, false-positives can occur from contact with products containing alcohol or alcohol vapor, or ingestion of food that contains alcohol. For example, a positive EtG screen could potentially result from:


  • Using topical hand sanitizer
  • Using over-the-counter medications
  • Exposure to certain cleaning products
  • Religious partaking of sacramental or communal wine

If you are required to take EtG tests, you should monitor your daily use of medicines and over-the-counter products that may contain ethanol.


What to Expect From a False-Positive Result

If you are on pre-trial conditions of release pending trial, the probation department will either request (1) a warrant for your arrest; or (2) mail a summons to you requiring you to appear in court to address the positive test. The District Attorney’s Office prosecuting your case will likely move to revoke your bail as a result of the positive test. This means that they will request that the court hold you without bail pending trial. You are entitled to a hearing to determine whether there has been a violation and the appropriate sanction.


If you are on probation and you produce a false-positive result, the probation department can request (1) a warrant for your arrest; or (2) mail a summons to you to appear for a Violation of Probation hearing. At this hearing, the probation department must establish by probable cause that you have violated a condition of your probation. If such a violation is found, the probation department may request that you be held without bail (“detained”) pending a Final Surrender Hearing. At the Final Surrender Hearing, the probation department will have to prove by a preponderance on the evidence that you violated the terms of your probation by drinking alcohol. You have the right to be represented by counsel and submit evidence regarding the reliability of the EtG test.


Contact Us

If you or a family member are facing a pre-trial detention hearing or probation violation hearing as a result of a false-positive test, the New Bedford OUI attorneys at McCormack Law can help. With successful results and satisfied clients, our attorneys will help you fight your case. Contact us today!

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