Yesterday, our Supreme Court handed down a ruling which has to be one of the most blatant examples of policy and political expediency over truth and justice I’ve confronted in 44 years of law practice….
U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to DUI Machines
Washington, D.C. June 23 – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a motorist’s challenge to the reliability of the machines used in California to test the blood alcohol content of drivers.
The justices, without comment, denied review of a state Supreme Court ruling in November that concluded that the machines are accurate and can be used to determine whether a driver’s blood alcohol was over the legal limit of .08 percent.
The state court noted that the devices have been studied by the Legislature and certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ruling meant that the defense can’t present testimony from scientists who contend that breath-testing machines are inherently unreliable, although a defendant can try to show that a particular machine was defective or was used improperly, the court said.
The case comes from San Diego County, where Terry Vangelder was stopped by a highway patrolman in December 2007 after driving his pickup truck at speeds of more than 125 mph. With Vangelder’s consent, the officer administered two breath tests that registered .095 and .086 percent.
At Vangelder’s trial, the defense offered testimony by Michael Hlastala, a University of Washington professor of medicine and physiology. He said breath-testing machines are unreliable because they measure the content of exhaled air, which can be affected by the rate of breathing and other variables, rather than air that is deep in the lungs and closer to the bloodstream.
A trial judge ruled the testimony speculative and largely inadmissible. Vangelder was convicted of speeding and driving with an excessive blood alcohol level and fined nearly $2,000.
Vangelder’s lawyer, Charles Sevilla, said Monday he was disappointed that the U.S. Supreme Court had refused to take up the case. The California ruling was “unduly trusting in the infallibility of government testing of these machines,” he said.
Try to forget for a moment that you think drunk drivers should all be punished severely. None of us wants drunk drivers on the road. None of us. But at what cost? Banning scientific truth? Denying the right to a fair trial? Convicting innocent people?
Think about what the Court is saying….
Beaurocrats at the Department of Transportation (with a political agenda but no scientific knowledge) and state politicians (anxious to be mollify MADD and be re-elected) decide that these breathalyzers are foolproof. Therefore, their decisions can’t be contradicted in a court of law by a citizen accused of a crime based almost entirely on the accuracy and reliability of the machine. In other words, these political hacks are more knowledgeable than Dr. Michael Hlastala — a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine and probably the foremost expert in the U.S. on breath alcohol analysis.
Welcome to our cirminal justice system and the “War on Drunk Driving”.