Delaware Supreme Court Reverses DUI Conviction for Improper Admission of BAC – Hunter v. Delaware

November 7, 2012 by David S. Seltzer

As we move into the holiday season, I expect to see an increase in drunk driving charges due to the typical police efforts to step up enforcement of DUI laws. Though many people feel they cannot fight a drunk driving charge when the police have a blood-alcohol concentration sample, in fact, there are multiple avenues to challenge the BAC evidence. The evidence may be unreliable due to mishandling or errors of measurement; it may have been illegally obtained; and it may be inadmissible for procedural reasons. That last issue was raised in Hunter v. State of Delaware, a recent decision from the Delaware Supreme Court. Defendant Cookie A. Hunter was convicted of driving under the influence, resisting arrest and assault. He challenged the admission of his BAC evidence, arguing that foundational requirements for admitting it were not met, and the high court agreed.

When officers stopped Hunter, he said he had not been drinking, but showed signs of intoxication and had open beer cans on the floor of the car. He failed several field sobriety tests, so they arrested him for DUI. Once handcuffed, Hunter began shouting that he was diabetic and needed his insulin pump; he was given the pump, but had to be forcibly re-handcuffed because he became unruly. At the police station, he began physically fighting officers and also claimed he was going into diabetic shock; an EMT said he was not in danger and testified that he was fighting an officer when they arrived. In the course of being taken to the hospital, however, Hunter kicked the EMT in a way that “basically destroyed” his elbow, requiring surgical correction and six months away from work. He attempted to bite an officer later while his blood was being forcibly drawn, and ultimately was tasered twice.

At trial, Hunter moved to exclude the evidence from his blood draw, which showed a BAC of 0.12%, because the blood draw kit had expired two days before it was used. Hunter also alleged that the sample was mishandled because it was shaken vigorously even though the manufacturer’s instructions advised against that. He moved for a judgment of acquittal, but it was denied, giving rise to this appeal.

On appeal, Hunter argued that the expired blood draw kit and the vigorous shaking should have been enough to disallow the evidence produced by the blood draw. The Delaware high court agreed, reversing that part of the decision. The reliability and accuracy of a scientific test is vital to its admissibility, the court said. Relying on a similar case involving the admissibility of BAC test results from an Intoxilyzer breath test, the Supreme Court reasoned that without following the manufacturer’s instructions precisely, there’s too high a risk that a jury might convict using inaccurate information. Thus, it agreed that the evidence should not have been admitted, and reversed and remanded the case.

This is a good example of how drunk driving cases can be defended even when the police have a blood-alcohol concentration test result that is clearly over the legal limit. Hunter never argued that he wasn’t drunk; he argued that his test results were tainted by officials’ failure to follow instructions, and thus were not reliable enough to be admitted as evidence. This follows from one of the most basic principles of criminal defense law, which is that the jury must believe the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in order to convict. Tainted BAC evidence introduces reasonable doubt—highly reasonable, in some cases. This is more common in intoxicated driving cases than you may think, because police officers and medical professionals are human and make mistakes. That’s why I advise clients not to plead guilty before speaking to me or another attorney.

If you’re charged with driving while intoxicated or any other crime in Florida, don’t wait to call the experienced defense attorneys at Seltzer Law, P.A. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us an email or call toll-free—24 hours a day and seven days a week—at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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