Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flawed blood draw procedures in DUI cases not uncommon

Blood draw for genetic studiesImage via WikipediaEvery jurisdiction has specific procedures in place for DUI blood draws. These procedures exist for a very good reason: to prevent improper draws that could result in flawed test results and the subsequent conviction of innocent people. However, it's not uncommon for local police departments to ignore the important procedures in place and allow unlawful blood draws to occur. This recently happened in Tracy, California. As explained in this article, for almost 8 months, the Tracy Police Department allowed firefighters to draw blood from suspected drunk drivers. This occurred even though California law specifically excludes firefighters from drawing blood for DUI cases since they are not certified paramedics. According to the article, this error is expected to have an impact on pending and closed DUI cases:

Gil Somera, a Stockton attorney who has defended clients charged with driving drunk, said the validity of the blood sample is vital to a DUI case.

"It is probably the most important component of the evidence," he said.

Somera said the fact that the blood was drawn by firefighters could affect closed cases.

A similar issue was encountered in Indiana last year, resulting in a change to the state's DUI laws, as described in a recent article:
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled a year ago the law doesn't let a lab technician do your blood-alcohol test -- the law says "certified phlebotomist," and Indiana has no such certification. In March, legislators eliminated that language, and said anyone with the proper training, including a lab tech, can take blood -- but they still have to follow established protocols, or be under the supervision of a doctor.
However, even after the Indiana law was amended to expand the classifications of people authorized to draw blood, local police departments still allowed unqualified people to draw blood for DUI cases. As explained in the article, in one recent case, an unsupervised and unqaulified lab technician drew blood in the absence of any protocols. Accordingly, the blood test results obtained from the blood draw have been held to be inadmissible, resulting the dismissal of the DUI-related charges pending against David Bisard. The danger of DUI blood and breath testing is in the inaccuracy. There is so much room for error, whether from faulty equipment, errors in the underlying software programming, calibration errors or human error in obtaining the breath or blood sample. These cases are further examples of how error-prone these procedures can be and just go to show that what at first glance might appear to be a fool-proof case against someone accused of DUI, in many cases, is just the opposite.
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