Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Flawed blood alcohol tests by police lab jeopardize DUI cases

JOHN C. ENSSLIN Updated: December 11, 2009 at 12:00 am

Prosecutors have begun contacting lawyers for 82 defendants whose drunken driving charges were based in part upon incorrect blood alcohol tests by the Colorado Springs police crime lab.

In each of the cases, test results reported by the forensic chemist unit of the Metro Crime Lab were higher that the actual results, police officials disclosed Friday.

Fourth Judicial District prosecutors were unable to identify specific cases where charges had been dismissed or reduced so far.

However, Assistant District Attorney Dan Zook said that could happen as the investigation continues.

“We’re not going to be relying upon any questionable blood alcohol content results,” he said. “The District Attorney’s office and the Colorado Springs Police realize how serious it is and we’re acting accordingly.”

“We don’t want to treat anybody as guilty if they’re not,” he added.

The 82 flawed test results were discovered in mid-November by a routine internal quality assurance review done by the Colorado Springs Police Department's crime lab, said department spokesman Lt. David Whitlock.

“That number could grow,” Whitlock said. “We’re continuing to do follow-up.”

So far, tests by the manufacturer have determined that the incorrect results were not the result of an equipment failure, police said.

At the Police Department’s request, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation will conduct an external and independent investigation of what went wrong.

The Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit also is conducting its own investigation.

“If there are corrections we need to make, we’ll make them,” said interim Deputy Chief Rod Walker.

Whitlock said the on-going investigation is trying to determine if they were the result of a human error or a procedural error.

As a result of the discovery, the crime lab is re-analyzing about 1,000 blood alcohol test results taken since January 2009.

Test results prior to that date have not been called into question because they had been subjected to the same kind of internal quality assurance testing that led to the 82 cases being discovered, Whitlock said.

The questionable results relate only to blood alcohol testing and not to any of the other exams the crime lab performs such as DNA testing, fingerprint processing, firearms analysis or crime scene reconstruction, police said.

Police immediately notified the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Revenue, which relies upon the test results in administrative decisions on whether to suspend a driver’s license.

Mark Couch, a spokesman for the Revenue Department, said re-test results from 60 of the 82 questionable cases have resulted in at least three people having their driving privileges restored so far.

News of the flawed tests touched off a flurry of calls to local lawyers from clients wondering if their DUI case was among the 82 cases with incorrect blood alcohol test results.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook this morning,” said Colorado Springs lawyer Tim Bussey.

“It calls into question the testing procedure and the oversight of the lab,” Bussey added. “Now everyone who’s been tested is questioning the accuracy and reliability of the testing procedure.”

Bussey said he didn’t know yet if any of his clients were affected, but said his office would be reviewing its cases from the time period in question.

“Prosecutors…judges…police and the Department of Revenue rely upon these results,” he said. “There may be people who have lost their license or gone to jail because of this.”

Lawyers who specialize in defending DUI clients often send out blood samples to independent labs to verify the results posted by the crime lab, said Colorado Springs lawyer Alvin Brown.

The Colorado Springs Metro Crime Lab's DNA forensic unit opened in November 2008. Built at a cost of $1.6 million, it was touted as helping police solve crimes faster by provided a quicker turnaround in reporting test results.

 

Hotline

Anyone wishing to find out if their DUI case was among the 82 called into question by the faulty test results can call a hotline that the District Attorney’s Office will operate between Tuesday through Friday.

That number is 719-520-6265. It will be staffed between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or people can leave messages on the line after normal working hours.

Are you one of the 82 people who have been formally notified that your blood alcohol tests were incorrect, please contact John Ensslin at 719-650-0877 or at john.ensslin@gazette.com

 

 

 

 

 

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