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How can DUI blood test fail?

Lessons learned from Orange County Crime Lab’s recent “fail”

DUI Blood Test VialsHow can DUI blood test fail?   On October 10, 2013, the Orange County Crime Lab (OCCL) admitted that “human error” resulted in inaccurate BAC blood test results for at least 2,200 people charged with drunk driving in Orange County over the last five months, from May 29, 2013 to October 9, 2013.

In response to the flawed DUI blood test results, the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) Office sent letters to 900+ people whose cases resulted in a DUI conviction, alerting them of the blood test errors, regardless of whether the recalculated analysis changed their final BAC result.

O.C. crime lab officials insist that the miscalculations will directly affect only about 200 of those DUI cases, causing their BAC level to drop by .01%.  Of those 200 convictions, only about 20 defendants could see their blood alcohol test levels drop below 0.08%, California’s legal limit for impairment.

But will those 20+ wrongful convictions be overturned?  And what about the other 180 people convicted of DUI based on inaccurate blood test results?   Will their sentences, settlements, and plea bargains be revised based on the new data?

DUI blood tests: How accurate are they?

Since blood test results are the most critical piece of evidence in a DUI trial, this shocking (but not shocking) news from Orange County Crime Lab causes renewed “due process” concerns for people convicted of DUI.

Are blood tests more accurate than other BAC or DUI sobriety tests?  Yes.  As a DUI attorney, I advise clients to refuse every DUI test except for the blood test.  I recommend drivers submit to blood tests—though always under protest—for different reasons, but mainly because blood tests are more accurate than PAS breath tests and Field Sobriety Tests, and because they are less likely to be affected by an officer’s subjective analysis.

That said, many people incorrectly assume that a DUI blood test is simply a matter of a machine accepting a blood sample and producing an “accurate” result.  It’s all very “scientific,” isn’t it?

Not always.

How can a DUI blood test fail? 

As shown by the OC Crime Lab, human error can affect any DUI test.  In Orange County this year, in many cases it wasn’t the driver who “failed,” but the blood machines.

Even the most precisely calibrated machines are run by people, and people make mistakes.  In the OC Crime Lab case, an incorrect data point was entered on one of the two gas chromatograph machines used by the lab to calculate the average blood alcohol content (BAC) in DUI cases.

What’s the lesson to be learned here?

Anyone fighting a DUI charge should hire a DUI attorney who is an expert in blood alcohol science and detection and familiar with the many different, fast-evolving BAC detection technologies.  A skilled DUI attorney will request, during the discovery process, all documentation regarding the analysis of the blood, including chromatograms, and investigate them thoroughly.

Gas chromatography can reveal problems with the DUI blood analysis, including potential contamination and “false peaks” that could result in blood sample “evidence” being thrown out of court.  A competent DUI attorney understands the theory and operational processes of gas chromatographs, and knows how to cross-examine lab criminalists and prosecution “experts” to uncover potential human as well as machine errors.

Were your DUI blood test results inaccurate or compromised?

DUI lawyer Craig Sturm understands this is a difficult and overwhelming time for you. To schedule an initial case review, please complete this form or call the law firm directly at 310-820-1315 with any additional questions you may have.

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