Blood and Breath Alcohol Evidence in Los Angeles DUI Investigations
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The Los Angeles prosecution in a DUI case was now armed with not merely the opinion of one officer, but with
science: He could now
prove to the jury what the chemical state of the defendant's body was at the time of the arrest. Furthermore, he could now define for the jury exactly what
under the influence consisted of: Quite simply, it meant having a blood-alcohol reading in excess of .08 or.10 percent. Prosecuting a DUI case became largely a matter of obtaining a blood-alcohol reading and comparing it to the statutory presumptive levels.
But even this was not enough. Backed by increasing public hysteria and the attendant political pressures, prosecutors have succeeded in obtaining the passage of so-called DUI
per se laws. These laws make it illegal simply to drive with a blood-alcohol level in excess of a certain amount - usually .10 or .08 percent. No longer is intoxication even relevant: The crime of DUI consists entirely of driving while having a given physiological condition. Under such statutes, chemical evidence has taken on even greater importance. The accused's right to jury trial in a Los Angeles DUI case has increasingly been supplanted by
trial by machine - that is, innocence or guilt is largely determined by a breath analyzing device.
Yet, blood-alcohol tests in Los Angeles drunk driving cases were designed only to corroborate the observations of witnesses, not to take their place. Many scientific studies have been completed and many statistics compiled concerning the validity of the recognized blood-alcohol testing methods and the presumptive levels in DWI cases. There is considerable disagreement within the medical and scientific communities as to any conclusions that can be drawn. There are still many unanswered questions regarding breath, blood, and urine tests and their correlation with impairment of driving ability. Individual tolerances to alcohol are completely ignored, as are the individual physiological differences in absorption and elimination. Testing devices used in DUI investigations vary in quality, and none of them is without numerous sources for error.
Nevertheless, the significance of chemical evidence in a Los Angeles DUI case is considerable. Many judges, for example, will not even permit a drunk driving defendant to enter a plea at his arraignment until the results of the blood or urine analysis are returned from the crime lab. Prosecutors in many, if not most, Los Angeles courts will use the blood-alcohol reading in a given DUI case as a gauge in plea bargaining. If a reading is below .08 percent, for example, a traffic violation may be offered in lieu of a plea of guilty; if the reading is between .08 and .09 percent, a plea to the lesser-included offense of reckless driving may be offered; and if the figure is .10 percent or over, the prosecutor will probably insist on a straight plea as charged. Sentencing, too, is affected in many courts by the blood-alcohol level. As an example, one jurisdiction imposes one day in jail for each point over .10 percent in the defendant's blood-alcohol reading, resulting in an eight-day sentence for a drunk driving suspect with a level of .18 percent. And, of course, chemical evidence is all-important in a Los Angeles DUI per se case.