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What happens when labs deliver flawed blood alcohol test results?

When police are conducting a drunk driving arrest, they may take a blood sample for a blood-alcohol test. Once collected, samples are typically sent to a crime lab for analysis. Although there are specific scientific procedures for testing, the results are still subject errors made by laboratory staff of equipment.

Minnesota residents may be interested in a potentially serious issue coming to light in the neighboring state of Wisconsin. According to reports, thousands of tests conducted at a state lab could have produced tainted results. This is especially concerning considering that this lab processes about 17,000 blood samples every year.

Legal observers have noted strange occurrences in the test results. The tests at the state lab are conducted by machines that produce chromatograms, which measure the amount of substances contained in a given blood sample. Results from the Wisconsin laboratory have "jagged humps," which is something that isn't observed in other labs using the same equipment.

State officials have responded to concerns about the reliability of alcohol tests by saying that there is essentially nothing to worry about when it comes to the irregular chromatogram results. However, should these strange occurrences be dismissed so quickly?

Blood tests may be a major component of the cases built by prosecutors for drunk driving charges. As such, there should be no doubt about whether or not evidence is accurate before a conviction is reached. Challenging evidence based on a lack of accuracy or reliability can help ensure that the criminal process produces fair outcomes.

As more is learned about the testing issues in Wisconsin, it may be important to pay attention for similar problems arising in Minnesota. After all, a person should not have to fear being convicted for DWI based on faulty evidence.

Source: The Journal Sentinel, "Defense lawyers question results of blood-alcohol tests," Bruce Vielmetti, Feb. 16, 2014

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