Call Us: 202-630-0939

DUI Ruling Overturned by Appellate Court

by | Jan 18, 2014

The Arizona Court of Appeals has overturned an earlier ruling from a county superior court to toss breathalyzer test results on the basis of faulty equipment and questionable lab practices.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers were disappointed with the latest ruling in Arizona v. Tohannie. It was a matter that concerned 11 defendants in the Scottsdale region of the state. However, it may still have the potential for a greater impact if the defense challenges to these issues are further appealed or similarly argued by attorneys in other jurisdictions.

According to court records, these defendants each brought a series of the same issues before the court in the course of their DUI defense. Central to all of these claims was the validity of results a certain instrument, known as the Clarus 500. This machine processes biological evidence (specifically, blood) in order for use in DUI prosecutions.

These cases were consolidated, and over the course of four months, the court held a series of hearings to determine whether the scientific evidence met the Daubert standards. This is a standard stemming from the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals in 1993. It lays forth guidelines for determining whether certain expert scientific testimony or evidence should be admitted.

Among the guidelines established:

  • The judge must determine that, more likely than not, the evidence is both relevant and reliable.
  • In order to qualify as scientific knowledge, it has to be based upon sound scientific methodology.
  • In determining what is sound scientific methodology, the judge can look at the presence (or absence) of empirical testing, peer review and publication, known or potential error rates, existence and maintenance of standards and controls in operation and the degree to which the relevant scientific community generally accepts the theory or technique.
The court found that gas chromatography (the technology used by the Clarus 500) were accepted within the scientific community.
The question then became whether the methods and/or actions by the crime lab in daily operations of testing these devices were sufficiently reliable as to comply with the rules of evidence.
Following all of the evidence presented, the superior court judge determined that defense attorneys were right, and that the equipment used by police to process blood from DUI suspects was faulty, its lab practices failing to pass scientific muster. Among some of the problems noted were that the equipment often mislabeled vials, sometimes with incorrect numbers and names. In other cases, the machine became inoperable in the middle of tests.
Prosecutors then filed an appeal of this ruling, arguing that the judge had misunderstood the state’s rules of evidence, and further that defense attorneys had failed to prove any systematic problems with the case. Any issues, they said, were isolated incidents.
A three-judge appellate panel recently sided with prosecutors, finding that none of the defense lawyers were able to show that the results of their particular tests were inaccurate. Any claims about the evidence being problematic, they said, should be resolved in criminal court trials on an individual basis. The judges stated that at each trial, every defendant has the opportunity to cross-examine and present evidence about specific deficiencies about test results that are at issue.
That kind of diligence – whether in Arizona or D.C. – requires a defense attorney who is dedicated to fighting for you.
If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.