The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has come under fire for issues with its blood alcohol testing. It has come to light that tests completed by CBI have resulted in lower BAC results than the actual BAC. CBI began conducting blood alcohol testing this summer after an issue arose with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. CDPHE’s lab was shut down after defense attorneys worked to expose issues with the way testing was completed. Two other labs, Chematox and Rocky Mountain Instrumental Laboratories voiced concerns about CBI’s testing when they noticed large discrepancies between their test results and CBI’s test results. Thus far, it appears as though all erroneous test results have been to the benefit of the person charged because the test results have come back lower, not higher. But discrepancies are concerning regardless of whether the discrepancy is helpful or harmful to the person charged because such discrepancies call into question the reliability of the test. Jurors and judges are often called on to rely on those test results to make a decision about guilt or innocence and sentencing.
Generally, in a DUI investigation, police ask a suspected drunk driver to take a blood or breath test. If the driver agrees to a blood test, two vials of blood are collected by a nurse or other proper medical person in the presence of the officer. The equipment used to do the blood draw is provided by the police officer. The officer should take special care to make sure the vials are sealed so as to avoid contamination and to make sure the correct blood samples are associated with the correct driver. Two samples are taken so that the prosecution has one sample for testing and the defense has one sample for testing. If everything is done properly, the test results for both samples should be very close. Any discrepancy, if any, should be minimal.
Currently, it is unknown how CBI and the various District Attorneys’ Offices will handle this issue. Will the people who had blood tests completed by CBI be informed of the issue? Because all of the erroneous tests have resulted in a lower BAC, would this disclosure have any impact on case outcomes? The DA cannot ask to have people withdraw their guilty pleas now that they have learned of the issue.
Because CBI has declined to provide much information about the cause of the issue, the extent of the problem is unknown. It was envisioned that CBI would take the place of CDPHE. If that’s the case, this problem will likely slow that transition.