The work of a San Diego DUI Attorney seems to become more complicated every year. DUI Law in California has been litigated so extensively over the years that the mix of law and science has made it a true legal minefield that even the most seasoned practitioners have difficulty with.
The California Supreme Courts decision last week relating to a DUI conviction in San Diego highlights just how complicated and frustrating such cases can be. The case of The People vs. Terry Vangelder gives great insight into how California’s highest court currently views the devices used by law enforcement to determine blood alcohol level.
This case however went beyond the typical technical banter which is common in most DUI conviction appeals and went to a fundamental discussion about how evidence of devices used to measure Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) can be presented in court.
San Diego Criminal Attorney George Gedulin gives this basic description of how blood alcohol is determined by the police or CHP: “Anyone who has had the misfortune of being subjected to a series of Field Sobriety Tests will know that at the conclusion an officer will request that you blow into a handheld breathalyzer. This test is legally called a PAS, Preliminary Alcohol Screening, test which is a field test that allows an officer to test what a persons BAC is” This case came to the Supreme Court after the San Diego City Attorney appealed an 4th District Appeals Court decision which overturned the guilty verdict against Vangelder. The arguments made by counsel in the appeal and again in the Supreme Court is that a defendant should be allowed to present expert testimony about the fundamental reliability of such handheld devices to accurately measure the blood alcohol level of a driver. The main contention of this defendants Criminal Defense Attorney was that an expert trained in the field of blood and breath alcohol analysis should be allowed to give their opinion that handheld PAS devices have reliability issues which are fundamentally at odds with California laws under Title 17.
The courts final decision was a significant defeat for defense lawyers who consistently advocate for expert testimony in DUI cases. The court found that the California legislature has determined that breathalyzer devices are fundamentally reliable, and this in turn bars a defense attorney from presenting expert testimony of whether such devices are a reliable and scientifically valid test.
There was for defense attorneys a small victory, or at least an affirmation of rights for the defendant. The court stated that a DUI Attorney can present expert testimony questioning the calibration and specific use of such scientific equipment. This however is a small affirmation for defendant’s who face serious consequences in such cases. The defense attorney’s ability to question the method by which the State determines that someone has engaged in a criminal act is entirely fundamental to the criminal justice system. With this decision the Supreme Court has taken away a significant tool for the trial attorney to advocate for their client, the ability to confront and cross examine a witness. Especially if the witness in this case is a machine used by the State and law enforcement tens of thousands of times each year.
To learn more about how a DUI case is defended or Criminal Defense in general speak to Attorney George Gedulin.