Blood and Breath Alcohol Evidence in Los Angeles DUI Investigations
In the past, the prosecutor's case in a Los Angeles DUI prosecution rested solely on the testimony of the arresting officer. The evidence against the defendant consisted entirely of the officer's observations of the defendant and of his opinion as to sobriety. But the pitfalls were many. The Los Angeles police officer's word could be challenged, and there was nothing to corroborate his observations. The validity of his opinion could be questioned and his opinion often had little special education or training behind it. Perhaps most important, the Los Angeles prosecutor had to fit the DUI defendant within a vague, ill-defined category entitled
under the influence. At no time could the prosecutor offer any evidence but outward symptoms and opinions, and at no time could he even spell out the DUI offense beyond such amorphous phrases as
Two factors led to a drastic change in this situation. The first was the advent of advanced scientific techniques within criminalistics laboratories. Increasingly, law enforcement was turning to scientific methods of detection in proving criminal conduct. Then, in 1938, the American Medical Association set up a
Committee to Study Problems of Motor Vehicle Accidents; at almost the same time, the National Safety Council established a
Committee on Tests for Intoxication. Studies by these committees resulted in a recommendation that legal standards be set for determining the intoxication of a driver by chemical testing. Although there was some disagreement among the prominent medical members of the committees, the consensus recognized that any individual who had .15 percent alcohol in his blood could be presumed to be under the influence of alcohol; anyone having less than .05 percent of alcohol could be presumed to be not under the influence; and those individuals falling in the .05 - .15 percent midrange might or might not be under the influence - that is, the test would not be conclusive. The .15 level was lowered in 1960 by the recommendations of both committees to .10 percent (this vacillation of medical experts, incidentally, should give added ammunition to defense counsel for cross-examination). Since then, many states have lowered it even further - to .08 percent.
Armed with these findings and recommendations, prosecuting agencies throughout the country were able to obtain legislation requiring any driver to submit to chemical testing when requested by an officer. If the driver refused, these implied consent statutes automatically imposed sanctions, usually in the form of license suspension, regardless of the driver's guilt. When a blood-alcohol reading was obtained from the test, still other statutes determined what presumption, if any, was to be drawn legally from the reading, and the jury was to be instructed accordingly.
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