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D.C. DUI Tests – Timing is Everything

by | Jan 29, 2013

A high-profile DUI arrest in Connecticut – a case that was subsequently dropped – illustrates how critical timing is when it comes to chemical testing in these situations.

Our experienced D.C. DUI attorneys know that despite the legal adoption of standard intoxication measurements – primarily through breath, urine and blood samples, as well as field sobriety testing – a person’s actual level of intoxication is by no means an exact science. For instance, a person could have a blood alcohol content of 0.10 percent and be “fine” (though not legal) to drive.

Exacerbating this problem is that the accuracy of the testing methods we do have available is constantly being called into question in courtrooms across this country. That’s why law enforcement and prosecutors often combine a number of testing measures – such as a breath test AND a urine test, or a field test AND a blood test.

But even then, defendants may have a particularly strong case when those administering or handling those tests don’t abide by the strict rules for doing so.

This case, involving a former Rhode Island state representative, ended up being dismissed for this reason, combined with the concession by the arresting officer that he had “embellished” the results of the defendant’s field sobriety test conducted during the DUI checkpoint.

According to news reports, the former representative was stopped in Connecticut during a DUI checkpoint. The arresting officer indicated the defendant’s eyes were glassy, his speech was slurred and he smelled of both alcohol and marijuana.

He administered three field sobriety tests, reporting that the defendant failed all three. He was arrested on suspicion of DUI. However, a breathalyzer test revealed he only had a BAC of 0.05 percent – well under the 0.08 percent legal limit. Additionally, the urine test – which wasn’t provided within the state’s required two-hour window – revealed the defendant’s blood alcohol limit was 0.07 percent – still under the legal limit.

Yet the DUI charge was initially allowed to stick because the urine test also revealed marijuana in his system. Medical marijuana is legal in Rhode Island, as in D.C., and the lawmaker had previously admitted to using it to relieve pain for a chronic condition. However, he maintained he had not consumed any marijuana on the day in question.

Still, the prosecution continued to press forward with their case on the grounds that the combined presence of both marijuana and alcohol (even if under the legal limit) was enough to prove intoxication. The state representative was also found with a small pipe in his possession.

This reasoning is flawed, though, because the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, remains in a person’s system long after the most potent effects have worn off. That means presence in one’s system does not equal intoxication.

The paraphernalia charge ended up being dropped when the representative attended a drug counseling program. But the DUI case was still slated for trial. Then, just days before it was to begin, the judge granted the defense motion to suppress the urine test – a key piece of evidence in the case – because the test was not administered within the required two-hour time frame.

The prosecution could have chosen to move forward with the case using the officer’s testimony regarding the field sobriety tests as the primary piece of evidence, but that wasn’t seen as a viable option considering the officer had already admitted under oath that he had exaggerated on the official report.

The case was dropped.

The main lesson here is that a case is never hopeless. Even if there is a mountain of evidence, there will always be technicalities – sometimes, more than one.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights or fill out our online contact form. Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards accepted. Call 202-765-3175.