U.S. Supreme Court Bans Scientific Evidence of Breathalyzer Inaccuracy

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on June 24th, 2014

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".

  • Under scrutiny again: ISP trooper’s traffic stop tossed.
    A judge rules that pulling over a car to look at a temporary license tag was improper.
    An Ada County magistrate judge ruled Monday that Idaho State Police Cpl. Janet Murakami lacked probable cause when she pulled over an Eagle man after he left a Downtown Boise bar late at night in October.

    Two years ago, 4th District Judge Daniel Steckel found that Murakami lacked probable cause in stopping Nampa resident Lee Arthur Rice II for signaling less than five seconds while changing lanes on Interstate 84. After viewing police camera video of the stop, Steckel said Rice might not have signaled for the full five seconds but complied with the spirit of the Idaho law.

    Rice is suing Murakami and several other officers who responded to the trooper’s call for help when Rice refused to get out of his car. Rice claims that the officers used unnecessary and excessive force in taking him out of his car and taking him to the ground. He claims he was injured.

    On Oct. 9, Murakami was driving south on Sixth Street when she said she saw a man stumble and trip as he walked toward a Jeep Wrangler. Believing the man might be drunk, Murakami pulled over a few blocks away and waited for the vehicle to emerge.

    She observed that the Jeep did not have a license plate but could not tell whether a piece of paper affixed to the back window was a temporary license, so she pulled over the vehicle, driven by John C. Long.

    “It wasn’t until I got up to the vehicle that I could see it was a registration and not just a random piece of paper,” Murakami testified at a May 15 hearing on the matter.

    With Long stopped, Murakami did a field check and then arrested him for allegedly driving under the influence.

    Defense attorney Charles Crafts filed a motion asking Magistrate Theresa Gardunia to rule that Long was stopped without legal cause, which the judge concluded in her written ruling issued Monday.

    During cross-examination, Murakami told Crafts that she tried to determine whether the paper was a valid registration before she pulled the Jeep over, but could not. She said she did not have probable cause that Long was impaired based upon his driving, so she used the registration as the basis for her stop.

    In her 13 years as a trooper, Murakami said, she has spotted many fake or altered registration papers, and it was impossible to tell whether the one on Long’s vehicle was valid without stopping it.

    “I’ve seen so many that were fictitious and false or altered in some way, shape or form,” Murakami said. “If it were in the middle of the day, sir, it would be a different story … but I could not see it, I could not determine whether it was valid or invalid.”

    Gardunia quoted from a 2007 Idaho Court of Appeals case in which the court found that the proper placement of a temporary license could not be used as the basis for a stop unless an alteration or other impropriety was “obvious or discernible by the officer prior to stopping the vehicle.”

    The judge found unpersuasive Murakami’s assertion that “the silhouette of a piece of paper” in the rear window of the Jeep “could have been a temporary permit.”

    Gardunia said video of the scene from the trooper’s car-mounted camera told a different story.

    “On the contrary, at one point in the video a document is clearly displayed and visible in the rear window and can be observed from the short distance between Long’s vehicle and the trooper’s vehicle,” Gardunia wrote.

    She said Murakami’s efforts to confirm that the temporary license was valid “fell far short” of the law.

    “Any other conclusion would allow for the unrestrained seizure of vehicles because darkness provides cover for law enforcement intrusion, devoid of the minimal effort necessary to secure preservation of an individual’s constitutional rights,” Gardunia wrote.

    Crafts said Saturday that he disputes that his client tripped and stumbled before he got into his Jeep. Crafts said Murakami was just trying to bolster her case.

    “Trooper Murakami has shown a pattern of violating the rights of Idaho citizens and her behavior should continue to be exposed,” Crafts said.

    Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/06/29/3258640/under-scrutiny-again-isp-troopers.html#storylink=cpy