Supreme Court ruling affects drunk driving cases across country

Being charged with drunk driving or driving under the influence has a significant impact on someone’s life. It not only affects a defendant, but it affects their entire family. It’s a serious issue that deserves a strong defense no matter what. The Supreme Court made a recent ruling that helps clarify what makes a valid DUI defense.

The court’s decision was prompted by an out-of-state case but will certainly form the legal standard of what is necessary in a DWI trial in Minnesota and the rest of the country. The question that the case asked and that the court answered was this: Who is allowed to testify on behalf of lab results in a drunk driving or DUI case?

According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court Ruled 5-4 that there are strict guidelines when it comes to scientific testimony related to a defendant’s blood alcohol level lab results. Affirming a prior vote on this issue from 2009, the court ruled last week that an analyst who actually helped evaluate a defendant’s blood test must testify in order for such a testimony to be admissible in court.

What does that mean? That means that an analyst’s supervisor, co-worker or other random, seemingly “expert” witness is not allowed to comment on the results of a defendant’s blood tests in order to help prosecute him in court. An employee who was in some way directly responsible for producing the results of the test must testify.

Those who disagree with the court’s ruling suggest how unrealistic and demanding this requirement will be for lab workers. Will they have the time to continue their everyday work as lab workers if they are required to take breaks and often travel in order to testify in various cases? Could that difficulty regarding schedules make it hard for prosecutors in DWI and DUI cases to rely on BAC test results as evidence in their cases?

Those for the recent ruling argue that limiting who can testify on behalf of the test results is simply a result of following the U.S. Constitution. An accused citizen has the right to face his or her accuser. Some argue that enough mistakes are made in blood tests that limiting who can be considered viable witnesses would limit the risk of errors.

What do you think about this issue and the court’s ruling? Do you think it means a better chance at justice for defendant’s across the country?


The New York Times: “Supreme Court Ruling Accepts No Substitutes in Lab Testimony,” Adam Liptak, 24 Jun. 2011

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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