California Supreme Court Outlaws Science In DUI Cases
Scientific evidence challenging the accuracy of breathalyzers is not admissible, California Supreme Court rules.
Scientific evidence cannot be brought into evidence to challenge a borderline conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in California. The state Supreme Court last week rejected Terry Vangelder’s attempt to clear his name after he was arrested for drunk driving though he showed few signs of impairment in field sobriety tests.
California Highway Patrol Sergeant Richard W. Berg noticed Vangelder’s pickup truck driving at an alleged 125 MPH on Highway 163 in San Diego County on December 22, 2007. As soon as Sergeant Berg flipped on his overhead lights, Vangelder pulled over. Vangelder admitted to having a few glasses of wine with dinner, so he took and passed the field sobriety tests. Vangelder agreed to take a handheld Intoximeter Alco-Sensor IV preliminary alcohol screener test, which displayed a 0.086 blood alcohol content (BAC) reading. After this, he was arrested and taken to the county jail where an Intoximeter EC/IR breatalyzer produced an 0.08 BAC reading, right at the legal limit. He then took a blood test that reported a 0.087 BAC.
“I said I wanted to submit to a blood test,” Vangelder testified. “I didn’t think it was accurate. And the reason I say that is because I knew how much I had to drink.”
At trial, Vangelder called Dr. Michael P. Hlastala, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington, to testify. Hlastala is the author of a textbook and 170 peer-reviewed articles on the physiology of alcohol. He testified that the breath machines do not produce a scientifically reliable result. When he gave a very detailed explanation of how the machines fail to measure the alcohol content of deep lung air, the prosecutor objected and the jury was sent out of the courtroom.
“They are (inaccurate),” Dr. Hlastala testified before the judge. “And primarily because the basic assumption that all of the manufacturers have used is that the breath that