Scientific evidence is often a key part of a prosecutor’s case when a defendant is accused of impaired driving. Defendants may have toxicology testing performed in order to determine if the motorist was too drunk to be behind the wheel or if the defendant had drugs in his or her system. Juries often give a lot of credence to so-called scientific information because it is assumed to be accurate and objective. The reality, however, is there are recognized problems in labs throughout the country.
DUI defendants need to make sure they understand where and how testing of their blood alcohol concentration took place. In the event there were problems with testing processes or protocols, issues with how evidence was handled, or even general issues with accuracy in labs, these issues can be pointed out to the jury as a DUI defense. The goal is to try to introduce doubt about the accuracy of scientific evidence, so prosecutors will not successfully be able to show defendants are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of driving under the influence.
Problems with Crime Labs Recognized Nationwide
There is ample reason for DUI defendants to be concerned about the accuracy of lab test results and about the integrity of the testing process. PBS recently reported on efforts being made by the Department of Justice to address issues which exist at crime labs throughout the United States. Many of these labs conduct testing in a huge number of different kinds of criminal cases, including cases where a defendant’s entire future is on the line because the defendant is accused of violent crimes or serious felonies.
Despite the fact the outcome of test results can be determinative in trials, and despite the importance of evidence being processed, crime labs are often not accredited and the accreditation process is not sufficient. PBS indicates the Department of Justice is going to require accreditation of crime labs working with the DOJ, but not until 2020. Further, this requirement is going to apply only to labs working directly with DOJ and there is a loophole because the change to the rules only requires the use of an accredited lab when practical. It will be easy to argue it is not practical, especially since there are very few labs which actually are accredited.
A census of crime labs in 2009 found 17 percent of publicly-funded crime labs were not accredited. Accurate data on accreditation for private crime labs is not fully available but one of the leading agencies responsible for accrediting labs indicated only 26 of several hundred private crime labs have been accredited, as compared with 356 publicly funded labs.
Even when a lab is accredited, there’s not necessarily a guarantee the lab has actually followed protocols and processes. In most cases, labs can choose which cases they provide to accreditors so the accreditors can determine if protocols are followed. Obviously, these crime labs are likely to opt to give the accreditors only cases where they are certain they’ve done a good job.
Since attitudes towards crime lab accreditation are so lax even when crime labs process evidence in serious cases, it is not hard to understand why PBS indicates many cases have had to be retried and many convictions have been called into question because of inaccurate lab testing. DUI defendants should never assume lab results mean they cannot fight a criminal charge.