In Pennsylvania, police officers often ask people who they suspect to have engaged in driving under the influence to undergo blood tests. These chemical tests are used to determine whether people might have the presence of alcohol or drugs in their systems. When a blood test is administered, a certified officer, nurse, or technician will be asked to draw a blood sample from a suspect following his or her arrest for a DUI. The sample will then be sent to a forensic laboratory and analyzed to detect the presence of alcohol and drugs. People who are facing DUI charges and have submitted blood samples might think that the results are infallible. However, an experienced Chester County PA DUI lawyer at DiCindio Law understands how to challenge the results from blood tests when there are issues with how they are performed, transported, stored, or analyzed.
How Blood Samples are Tested
When blood samples reach the lab, analysts use gas chromatography to test them. Gas chromatography involves using a heated column to separate the substances within the blood to measure a person’s blood alcohol concentration and the presence of any other substances that might be present in the sample. The device measures the levels of different substances in the blood and is widely used. While blood tests are more reliable than breath or urine tests, knowledgeable defense attorneys still understand how to challenge the accuracy of the results.
Laboratories are required to follow the procedures outlined by the Pennsylvania Department of Health when analyzing blood. The equipment and staff must also meet the state’s standards on how blood tests are performed before the results can be admitted in DUI cases. In many cases, the accuracy and reliability of blood test results can be challenged even though the test might have met the minimum standards outlined by the state.
How Blood Tests are Properly Performed in DUI Cases
For purposes of admissibility, blood samples must be drawn, stored, sealed, transported, and analyzed under set protocols. Laboratory technicians and police officers often fail to follow the required protocols when testing samples for DUI cases. Some of the common errors that occur include the following:
- Contaminating samples with preservatives
- Failing to use anticoagulants
- Drawing blood from improper sites
- Improperly storing blood samples
- Failing to establish the chain of custody
- Failing to adhere to testing protocols
- Lacking the certifications to conduct blood testing
- Using antiseptics containing alcohol on the site where blood is drawn
Controlled Substances and Blood Testing
Pennsylvania’s drugged driving law is contained in 75 Pa.C.S.3802(d) Under this statute, you can be convicted of a DUI involving drugs when you have any amount of a schedule I controlled substance in your blood or a schedule II or III substance for which you do not have a valid prescription. This statute does not require you to be impaired by the substance in your system. The prosecutor simply has to prove that your blood contained drugs or drug metabolites within two hours of when you drove or operated a motor vehicle in Pennsylvania to secure a conviction.
Laboratories that perform tests for controlled substances must be approved by the Department of Health. The department has provided lists of the minimum detection levels of different drugs and metabolites before a test can be admitted as evidence in a DUI case. Some of the minimum detection levels for admissibility include the following:
- Cocaine – 1.5 ng/ml
- Hydrocodone – 1 ng/ml
- Marijuana – 0.5 ng/ml
- Morphine – 1 ng/ml
- Oxycodone – 1 ng/ml
Challenging Blood Tests in DUIs Involving Drugs
There are multiple ways to challenge blood tests in DUIs involving drugs. Attorneys can demonstrate that the substance detected in the defendant’s blood was not a substance listed by the Department of Health. In a drugged driving case involving an unlisted substance, a defense attorney might call a forensic toxicologist to rebut the testimony of the government’s drug expert.
Defense lawyers can also contest blood results involving listed substances. They might do this by showing that the laboratory failed to follow the proper protocols for handling and testing the samples. If the proper procedures were not followed, the results might be unreliable and suppressed by the court.
Independently Testing Blood Samples
Defense attorneys sometimes ask the state or laboratory to preserve the blood sample so that it can be independently tested by a defense expert. According to decisions by the appeals courts in Pennsylvania, the government is required to preserve samples under the following circumstances:
- The sample must have had an apparent exculpatory value before being destroyed.
- The defendant could not otherwise reasonably access the sample in the government’s possession.
When defense lawyers request independent testing of blood samples, they might use qualified forensic toxicologists to analyze them and verify whether the government’s results are accurate. An independent toxicology expert can also review the procedures and process to determine whether the proper protocols were followed by the laboratory personnel and law enforcement officers.
In some cases, the defense expert can show that the sample was contaminated by improper levels of preservatives or anticoagulants. In others, an expert might demonstrate that the sample was improperly stored or mishandled, leading to blood fermentation and an inaccurate BAC level.
Defense attorneys might also be able to successfully challenge the admissibility of blood tests by showing a break in the chain of custody. Blood samples must be properly logged each time they are moved in and out of the evidence room and while they are transported to the laboratory for testing.
Contact Our DUI Law Firm in West Chester, PA
If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA DUI lawyers at DiCindioLaw, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.
DiCindio Law, LLC
29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the publisher. The above-listed information does not include the entire criminal code, annotations, amendments, or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case.***