I’ve already done a blog and a video on former Las Vegas Raider, Henry Ruggs, and his pending drunk driving case where he is charged with drunk driving resulting in death following an incident which allegedly killed a woman in Las Vegas. Ruggs faces up to a maximum of 20 years on this drunk driving charge and so his criminal defense lawyers are obviously looking for options in his case outside of a plea. They have already filed motions with the court asking that it seal his medical records from the accident, which would include any potential blood evidence.
While Ruggs case may ultimately end with a plea, his criminal defense lawyers need to look for ways to call into question the prosecution’s case against their client.
According to the initial alleged facts in the case, Ruggs’ vehicle was traveling at approximately 156 MPH and his Blood Alcohol Concentration was .16 which is twice the legal limit in Nevada. (.08). Ruggs’ speed and his BAC could be critical issues if his case moves on to trial but his attorneys could also use it in potential plea bargain negotiations.
The difference between hospital blood draws for medical treatment vs. DUI blood draws
Many of our criminal defense law firm’s drunk driving cases come from incidences where a person is charged with driving under the influence (DUI) following a vehicle accident in which the individual is transported to a local hospital for treatment of injuries.
In these situations, the hospital, as part of its admission’s policy or initial intake, draws the person’s blood to determine a course of action for treatment. Law enforcement or police, through the District Attorney’s Office will frequently subpoena this blood draw and use it to later prosecute the individual for drunk driving. This is likely what happened in the Ruggs’ case and why his lawyers have filed motions requesting that the records be sealed.
It is important that your attorney understand the difference between blood draws collected for the purposes of medical treatment vs. forensic purposes. In many situations, hospitals will use an alcohol based solution to cleanse the injection area prior to collecting the sample and cannot document a proper chain of custody for the sample once it is collected. Your attorney should review the hospitals operating procedure with regards to blood samples to determine possible pre-trial motion issues along with issues at trial.
If a person is charged with DUI following an accident, the attorney should also review what occurred prior to the person’s arrest or his/her transport to the hospital by police or in the ambulance. In many situations, accused individuals will exhibit minimal signs of impairment or movements that are more consistent with traumatic injuries rather than alcohol intoxication. Further, law enforcement or police may inaccurately administer field sobriety tests or improperly interpret their results. For example, frequently police indicate that an intoxicated individual exhibited horizontal gaze nystagmus (HGN) but there is a substantial amount of medical literature which indicates that 50% of persons exhibit this same quality for non-alcohol impairment reasons.
Cross Interference of Lactic Acid Can Negatively Affect Blood Alcohol Levels (BAC)
Another issue which can call into question the validity of blood draws taken for medical as opposed to forensic purposes in the Henry Ruggs’ case is the cross interference of lactic acid contamination, which is frequently elevated within a person’s body following a traumatic incident or accident. Lactic acid interference, along with isopropyl alcohol, can drastically elevate blood alcohol levels within a person’s body.
Further if the specimen is not properly refrigerated or the hospital cannot document the manner of the refrigeration, it leaves open the possibility for the defense to argue that fermentation contaminated the sample. The bottom line is that hospital testing is frequently less comprehensive than forensic testing in the reliability and measure of a certainty (margin of error) is therefore, far greater.
What is Enzymatic Assay Blood Testing and why is it important in a drunk driving case
Right now it is unknown if Enzymatic assay testing was used to determine Ruggs’ BAC. This test is quick and inexpensive and the type of testing that you will typically find in a hospital lab. It measures the blood alcohol concentration indirectly by using the reaction of its antibody to an antigen. It is not a direct measurement of the alcohol molecule itself. Enzymatic testing is a screening test that must confirmed using gas chromatography
The type of testing will be at issue in any DUI accident case where the defendant was transported to the hospital. Plasma or serum, and notwhole blood, is tested using this method. Plasma results when whole blood is centrifuged (spun) and the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets are removed. Serum is the same as plasma minus any coagulation proteins. Measuring plasma or serum for alcohol concentration yields a measured result 16-25% higher than the alcohol concentration in whole blood. Experts will use different conversion numbers. The range most often testified to is .13 to .20. Technical Supervisors typically use .16.
EXAMPLE: .10 serum/plasma alcohol concentration conversion to a whole blood alcohol concentration
.10 / 1.16 = .086
.10 / 1.18 = .084
.10 / 1.20 = .083
.10 / 1.25 = .080
The Need For Expert Testimony in Your DUI Case
If medical evidence is an issue in a drunk driving case, your lawyer will likely need to obtain a medical doctor, pharmacist, or some other individual with a background in medical testing. Without this expert your attorney can’t assert any type of defense or argument related to improper medical testing, contamination, or interference.
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