If you are arrested for driving under the influence in Northeastern Pennsylvania, there is a good chance some type of scientific evidence will be used by the prosecutor in an attempt to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors may present blood test results, urine test results, or other results of toxicology testing performed in a lab setting. Many defendants assume it is difficult to present a successful DWI defense in cases where scientific evidence is used because juries tend to put a lot of faith in objective test results.
The reality, however, is there are often many successful legal arguments which can be made to challenge lab results. One of the best defenses is to make the jury doubt whether the actual test results are accurate. Problems at crime labs throughout the country give plenty of reason for defendants to be concerned about who is performing testing in DWI cases and about what quality control standards are implemented at labs nationwide.
Raising Questions About Lab Test Protocols
PBS reports problems at crime labs throughout the United States have resulted in many defendants avoiding conviction, having their cases reopened, or having verdicts overturned. Crime labs processes all different kinds of evidence, including forensic and DNA evidence in cases where a defendant could face decades of imprisonment. Even in these serious situations where crime lab evidence could determine a person's fate for years to come, crime labs are subject to very few standards to ensure they are performing adequately.
The Department of Justice has recognized serious issues associated with crime labs throughout the country and has put forth a proposed plan to try to address this issue and improve the accuracy of lab results. This plan, however, is woefully inadequate.
The DOJ's plan will require the use of accredited labs, when practicable, when cases are investigated by the Department of Justice. Of course, DWIs and most other cases are not investigated by DOJ and aren't prosecuted on the federal level. Furthermore, even cases prosecuted by DOJ are not necessarily going to involve the use of an accredited lab because the requirement mandating the use of accredited labs when practical leaves a big loophole.
Even if more labs do become accredited because of DOJ's plan, this requirement for accreditation does not start until 2020 and the accreditation process actually does very little to ensure labs are living up to high standards of quality control. Accreditation processes by most major accreditors allow for labs to decide what cases will be reviewed by accrediting authorities. Obviously, labs are going to make sure they are following all protocols and working by-the-book on cases they are submitting for review. Cherry picking the best cases doesn't mean the lab lives up to quality control standards in all situations.
Since there are often so many problems with crime labs, defendants can try to introduce evidence about problems with testing as a DWI defense. If a defendant can make the jury doubt whether BAC or toxicology test results are accurate, the defendant shouldn't be convicted.