Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ratios, DUI, and Stupid Judges

What, is Rose Bird sitting on the California Supreme Court again? You might think so, with the idiocy of this ruling:

The California Supreme Court last Thursday entered a ruling allowing motorists accused of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) to question the reliability of the breathalyzer machinery used to secure convictions. The decision, however, leaves room for the conviction of drivers even when the machine is proved unreliable.

The high court recognized that a breath testing machine does not directly measure the alcohol content in a person's bloodstream. Rather, the device estimates from a sample of breath how much alcohol might be present in the blood using a conversion factor called the "partition ratio." California's breathalyzer machines assume that the amount of alcohol in 2100 milliliters of breath is equal to the amount of alcohol in 1 milliliter of blood.

"Simply put, the machines all automatically convert the amount of alcohol tested in the tiny amount of breath taken from the suspect," California DUI attorney Lawrence Taylor explained. "The internal computer multiplies the amount by 2100 -- using the average ratio of alcohol in blood to alcohol in breath -- to estimate the amount of alcohol in the suspect's blood. Problem: We are not all average. And ratios vary from 1300:1 to 3500:1...[Y]ou can use scientific facts that the BAC reading is faulty to defend yourself against the BAC-based presumption of being under the influence -- but not against the charge that your BAC was .08 percent or higher."

Would a little more math knowledge help these judges? Or are they stupid anyway?


Ellen K said...

My grandmother was killed by a drunk driver when I was five years old. They didn't have breathlyzers then, but the woman was stinking drunk, and had downed five drinks in the previous two hours according to the bartender's testimony. If we allow this kind of loophole, then we will have to rely on witness testimony. That puts bartenders in the position of having to testify against themselves and creates huge liabilities against restaurants. The problem is that the responsibility should be placed on the DRUNKS. I have seen too many cases where DUI/DWI offenders get off time and time again. Just this past weekend, my husband lost a friend who was in a charity ride for a rural high school when a truck, driven by someone abusing pot and prescription drugs blatantly turned into a line of motorcycles on parade. Three people were killed and the highway patrol said the force of the crash was such that even had they been in a car, they would have died. The driver walked away. And if he's not punished, he will get in a car and do the same things over and over and over until he finally meets his end. This kind of stuff has to stop.

Darren said...

I'm not against punishing drunk drivers. I'm against having a standard for inebriation (.08% in California) and then allowing a known faulty measurement of that standard to be satisfactory for conviction.

Honestly, until this report I just assumed breathalyzers were accurate. My bad.

Steve USMA '85 said...

I think what the lawyers need to do is formally test their client to see where on the spectrum they land. If they are close to the 3500:1, they should be able to argue a breathalyzer isn't accurate in reference to their client.

On the other hand, I am with Ellen K. We don't need to give drunks an out. What really needs to be developed is machine to automatically draw & test blood on the scene. Kind of like the automated defibrillators they have now. Just attach it to the driver's arm and it draws the blood and tests it.

Someday maybe

maxutils said...

The way the law is practiced, an accused drunk driver can contest the breath test with a blood sample; the BAL from the blood is considered in relation to body weight and time elapsed since driving.

the real problem is that MADD, in it's legit earnestness has focused on volume rather than quality in terms of convictions. I guaranteee that anyone who drinks AT ALL has been over .08 at some point, and the vast majority never harm anyone (remember-- it was .10 nationwide for a LONG time). A much more sound policy would be to elevate the acceptable level a small amount, then REALLY punish those who went over, and REALLY,REALLY punish those who harm someone else. As it is right now, we put a lot of mostly law abiding citizens, who have done nothing more than their neighbors except get caught, through a lot of expensive legal hoops. To me, that makes neither a better, nor safer, nor more noble society.