Flawed DUI Test Results? Colorado Springs Crime Lab Audited

Questions are being raised after an internal affairs investigation recently uncovered flawed DUI test results at a Colorado Springs crime lab. When investigators reexamined blood alcohol tests carried out at Metro Crime Lab from 2006 to 2009, they found that 206 out of approximately 8,000 tests contained fundamental errors.

Despite the fact that over 200 results of the blood alcohol tests were deemed to be flawed, only nine have resulted in any changes in their corresponding legal cases. Penalties were reduced for defendants in five of those cases, while four were summarily dismissed. According to El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, court costs were refunded to some of the defendants.

While the director of Metro Crime Lab, Dr. Ian Fitch, isn't offering details on how exactly the errors occurred, blame for the flawed results has been firmly placed on a single employee at the facility who is no longer working there. According to Dr. Fitch, "There's no good reason or good explanation as to why that discrepancy should be there," however, he goes on to say, "we do believe that it was due to a human error due to sample preparation." The name of the former employee who apparently made the errors has not been released, and no other individuals have been implicated as being responsible for the flawed results.

The nine DUI test results that corresponded to changes in the cases of the involved defendants were apparently distinguished from the other flawed tests because blood samples ended up decisively over a specific blood-alcohol limit. In these cases, a blood-alcohol level above one of these limits could mean the difference between a classification of driving while impaired, driving under the influence and the imposition of a mandatory 10 days spent in jail.

Metro Crime Lab's DUI testing scandal highlights wider issues regarding the accuracy of DUI and alcohol testing in general, as law enforcement continues to expand efforts to test for alcohol levels above the legal limits. Defendants whose cases are in progress, as well as bonded and paroled individuals, are sometimes subject to relatively new measures, such as alcohol monitoring ankle bracelets that continuously monitor alcohol levels in the skin. A popular product called the SCRAM device is one such ankle bracelet system that is in use despite a lack of scientific, peer-reviewed research regarding its accuracy and general efficacy.

More traditional testing methods are also far from flawless. While a range of methods are sometimes available, some alcohol tests may be more prone to false positives than others. Hair strand analysis for alcohol consumption has been used in the U.K. judicial system, as well as by potential employers throughout the world. Unfortunately, consumption of over-the-counter medicines as well as the use of hair sprays and even alcohol-based hand sanitizers may potentially affect the results of such tests.

While challenging a DUI case may seem daunting, the Colorado Springs scandal demonstrates that test results are not infallible. Defendants may consider doing their own testing in consultation with their lawyer if a test result is believed to be a false positive. Saliva and urine testing are potential alternatives, though these are typically only effective within a limited time after the alleged alcohol consumption.

Beyond disputing test results themselves, defendants may be able to challenge a case if the arresting officer did not have reasonable suspicion to request a stop or search, or made an arrest without sufficient probable cause. Many police vehicles now have dashboard cameras as a standard device, and video may corroborate the details of your account.