Archive for August 2nd, 2006

Mel Gibson Guilty of….What?

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

I gave an interview a couple of days ago to a reporter from a national news magazine.  He wanted to know, among other things, whether Mr. Gibson would get favorable treatment, whether he should be made an example of, and what kind of a jail sentence would probably be given; the issue of guilt was, apparently, not of interest.

I responded that the judges in Malibu Court were relatively fair and, unlike many others, would give him neither favorable treatment nor would they "make an example" of him.  Then what kind of a jail sentence would he likely get, the reporter wanted to know.  Well, that can't be predicted with certainty, but in my experience a first offender in Malibu with a .12% blood-alcohol and no prior conviction (Mr. Gibson's arrest in Toronto was 20 years ago and, in any event, was dismissed) would probably not get any jail time; he would basically get a fine, DUI school, suspended license and probation.  Certainly, his apologies and voluntary submission to rehabilitation would weigh in his favor.

But what about the anti-semitic remark? the reported continued. And the sexist statement?

I was a bit taken aback by those queries.  Of what possible relevance are ignorant remarks to the issue of whether a suspect has .12% blood alcohol in his system?  I asked him what he meant.

Well, he replied, won't there be some jail time for saying things like that?

I was slightly depressed for awhile after that interview.  But then, I thought, maybe this reporter wasn't really expressing the prevailing view in this country.  Then this morning I read a news story on CNN's website:

DA Considers Gibson DUI Charges

LOS ANGELES, August 1 (AP)Sheriff's Department officials sent prosecutors their drunken-driving case against Mel Gibson, including an official report that verifies the actor made anti-Semitic and sexist remarks, a law enforcement official said Monday…

The Sheriff's Department, spokesman Steve Whitmore said, was "convinced because of our investigation and because of his own self-illuminating statement that he will be convicted of driving under the influence."

So not only should he do jail time for making a bigoted remark, but such a "self-illuminating statement" ensures a conviction?  Now, Mr. Gibson may well be guilty based upon the evidence, but when did we start convicting people and throwing them in jail for being prejudiced?  And who among us can truly say we are without prejudice?


Can Coagulation of the Blood Sample Raise the Alcohol Level?

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

When a blood sample is taken from a DUI suspect for later analysis, it is usually done in one of two ways. The suspect may have the blood drawn at the police station by a technician, using a prepared kit containing a vial, or it may be taken by a nurse at a medical facility. In either event, it is critical that the vial in which the blood is contained is sterile and contains two things: a preservative and an anticoagulant.

The preservative, in conjunction with refrigeration, is to prevent the blood from fermenting — and thereby producing alcohol in the vial. The anticoagulant is to prevent the blood from coagulating, or clotting.

Why are we concerned about coagulation of the blood? Blood is made up of a mixture of solid particles supended in a liquid. The solid particles consist of red blood cells, white blood cells and clotting platelets; the liquid portion is called serum or plasma. (The percentage by volume of the solid particles to the liquid is called the hematocrit of the blood: a hematocrit of .47, for example, would indicate that the individual’s blood consists of 47 percent solid particles (cells and platelets) and 53 percent plasma.) When blood clots, the liquid portion (plasma) separates from the solid portion (blood cells and clotting platelets). This will be seen in the sample vial as a red clump at the bottom (cells) with a yellowish liquid on top (plasma). When this sample is tested at the laboratory, usually days later, it is the plasma that is tested for alcohol content; the clotted cells at the bottom are not included.

So what? Well, alcohol is attracted to water — that is, it is soluble in water. And since plasma is a liquid and contains water, and alcohol is attracted to water, the plasma in the blood sample will contain a higher percentage of alcohol than in the whole blood sample. The higher the percentage of plasma in the sample being tested, the higher will be the blood alcohol concentration (BAC).

Put another way, if two subjects have the same BAC in their bodies but the blood sample from one has clotted and so has a higher percentage of plasma, that person’s “sample” will show a higher BAC.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for blood samples collected by police agencies or hospital personnel to contain no anticoagulant, or to contain insufficient amounts of the chemical. (And, of course, we have the emerging practice of just letting the police officer himself perform the blood draw and sample preservation out on the highway.) An additional problem is that the kits used by technicians usually contain a vial already containing a preservative (commonly sodium fluoride) and an anticoagulant (commonly ptassium oxalate) in powder form at the bottom. However, when the blood is added to the vial, the technician does not shake it — and the chemicals are not mixed with the blood. Result: coagulation — and a falsely high blood alcohol result.