Court decisions from around the country are questioning the standard testing for alcohol levels in those suspected of drunk driving.
For years, a series of tests have been conducted by law enforcement to uncover elements common in people who have been suspected of drinking and driving. Officer observations are followed by roadside testing. Chemical breath tests and/or blood tests are collected as further evidence.
The accuracy of this process, and breathalyzer tests in particular, is being scrutinized through a landmark case, Daubert vs. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, the 1993 case resulting in the formation of the Daubert Standard. The Daubert Standard requires that the judge overseeing each case act as a gatekeeper, suppressing evidence that lacks scientific quality.
According to the Cornell University Law School Legal Information Institute, the Daubert Standard requires that a trial judge “make a preliminary assessment of whether an expert’s scientific testimony is based on reasoning or methodology that is scientifically valid and can properly be applied to the facts at issue.”
The Daubert Standard uses the following factors to determine the validity of methodology:
- whether the theory or technique in question can be and has been tested
- whether it has been subjected to peer review and publication
- its known or potential error rate
- the existence and maintenance of standards controlling its operation
- whether it has attracted widespread acceptance within a relevant scientific community
Court Decisions Influenced by the Daubert Standard
Since 1993, a long history of defense has been established through the use of the Daubert Standard. Recently, the Daubert Standard has helped mount defense against the use of a breathalyzer test that garners questionable results.
In August, an Ohio judge dismissed the results of a 2012 breath test because the Intoxilyzer 8000, a breathalyzer, was faulty according to the World News Report.
Also in 2013, the validity of results from the Intoxilyzer 8000 were again questioned in the State of Ohio vs. Chelsea Lancaster.
Despite a rigorous defense of the machine by the head engineer for the manufacturer of the Intoxilyzer 8000, a respected toxicologist and the head of the Ohio alcohol testing program, overall doubt regarding the credibility of the Intoxilyzer 8000 has been established through numerous rulings, the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL) reports.
Judge Teresa Liston was assigned by Marietta Municipal Court Judge Janet Dyar Welch to hear several similar cases and ruled that results by the Intoxilyzer 8000 are not scientifically reliable.
Among the problems with the machine were radio frequency interference, allowing result manipulation by officers, and evidence that the Intoxilyzer 8000 read not only alcohol levels but other substances found in the mouth, esophageal fluids and blood.
Due to a lack of scientific accuracy, results from the Intoxilyzer 8000 were dismissed.
These results have significant bearing on Arizona cases. The Intoxilyzer 8000 is the only breathalyzer test admissible in Arizona courts, according to Attorney at Law Magazine.
Chemical tests have been challenged under Daubert in Arizona as recently as August, when attorneys won a hearing involving the blood results of defendants charged with felony DUIs in Maricopa Superior Court. The Scottsdale crime lab was criticized for using faulty equipment and incorrect methods, causing the court to dismiss any of the lab’s reported results for the case.
As Arizona DUI lawyers, Corso Law Group will continue to monitor court decisions questioning the standard testing for alcohol levels in those suspected of drunk driving and to challenge methodology used by the state to obtain convictions.