Appeals court: Tossed DUI cases can move forward; contested BAC results are admissable

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Court of Appeals says nearly a dozen DUI cases can move forward despite concerns about the blood alcohol content results provided by the Scottsdale Crime Lab.

A judge had tossed those results after determining that the SCL, which was first accredited in 1996, had used "malfunctioning" equipment.

In his August 2013 ruling, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jerry Bernstein said he had "significant questions" about the "reliability and confidence in" a machine used to test DUI suspects' blood at the lab.

Defense attorneys believe old software used in a new blood-testing machine generated irregular results. They also police the Scottsdale Crime Lab knew there were issues.

Tuesday's ruling by the appeals court, a three-judge panel, vacates Bernstein's decision and declares that the results in question admissible in court

"The Appeals Court clearly saw through this attempt by the DUI defense industry to impugn the validity of the evidence in these cases," Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in a news release. "We continue to have confidence in our law enforcement partners at the Scottsdale Crime Lab and we look forward to the opportunity to hold these defendants accountable for making the wrong choice to drive under the influence and threaten the safety of other members of our community."

The 10 DUI cases at the center of this ongoing legal battle happened between November 2009 and February 2012. With BAC results ranging from 0.143 to 0.318, all of them were deemed aggravated or extreme.

Under Arizona law, a person can be charged if an officer suspects impairment "to the slightest degree," but a BAC of 0.08 is considered legally impaired. The threshold for extreme DUI is 0.15.

The Court of Appeals pointed out that there is no evidence that any of the contested results were inaccurate. It also cited the fact that two vials of blood were collected from each of the defendants.

"Although the second vial of blood is available for independent testing by Defendants, the record does not contain any independent test results conducted by any of the Defendants," the court wrote in its ruling.

"We are gratified that the Court of Appeals has agreed with the State that there is no justification for keeping this evidence from being presented to jurors in these cases and now the process can continue to move forward," Scottsdale Police Chief Alan Rodbell said in a statement.

The 10 challenged DUI cases will now make their way through the court.

3TV's Jared Dillingham contributed to this report.