Use of Incomplete Breathalyzer Test Result at Trial Triggers Reversal of Drunk Driving Conviction

All criminal trials include the right of the accused to receive a fair trial. A man charged with drunk driving got his conviction overturned by the Louisiana Court of Appeal because the trial he received was not a fair one. The recent ruling stated that, when the trial court allowed the state to use a partial and incomplete breath analysis test result as proof that the driver had a blood alcohol content above .08 and had violated the law, it allowed the jury to be improperly prejudiced and necessitated a reversal of the conviction.

In May 2010, John Wayne Farley was involved in an auto accident for which he was at fault. Shreveport Police Police arrested Farley for driving drunk. During a breath test, Farley began blowing on the Intoxilyzer device but stopped breathing into the device before it could complete its analysis. According to the officer overseeing the test, the device’s display gave a reading of .17 prior to the driver’s discontinuation of the test.

At Farley’s trial (4th offense DWI), the state offered evidence from the officer regarding the .17 reading. The state used this evidence as proof of that the driver had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08 and that the man was guilty of violating La. R.S. 14.98. The prosecutor told the jury several times about the officer’s observation of the .17 reading and reminded them that a .17 blood alcohol content was more than twice the legal limit.

The jury convicted Farley, and the driver appealed. The Louisiana Court of Appeal sided with the driver. The trial court misstepped by allowing the prosecutor to use the partial and incomplete breath test reading as proof of Farley’s guilt. La. R.S. 14:98(b) establishes the crime of DWI as operating a vehicle while having a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater. Under Subsection (b), if the jury believes that the state has proved that the driver had a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater, the driver is automatically guilty.

La. R.S. 14:98(a) also defines a driver as guilty of DWI if the driver “is under the influence of alcoholic beverages.” Clearly, though, this involves offering more subjective evidence. The state had considerable evidence of Farley’s guilt outside the incomplete breathalyzer test, including the failed field sobriety tests. However, by allowing the prosecutor to repeatedly tell the jury about the .17 reading and remind the jury that this incomplete test result was greater than the legal limit of .08, the trial court allowed evidence that may have improperly prejudiced the jury. Since the court of appeal could not say with certainty that the state’s argument centering around the breathalyzer test was not “crucial to the guilty verdict,” the only choice was to vacate the driver’s conviction.

All drunk driving charges should be treated with the utmost seriousness, since a conviction has the potential to substantially alter your life. If you are facing charges, you can protect yourself from mistakes by prosecutors and trial judges by putting an experienced DWI/DUI attorney on your side. Talk to the Louisiana DWI/DUI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm right away to begin putting our knowledge and skill to work for your defense.

For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.

More Blog Posts:

6 Month Prison Sentence for Misdemeanor First Offense Drunk Driving Conviction Not Excessive, Appeals Court Rules, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Aug. 20, 2014
Refusing an Officer’s Request to Submit to a DWI/DUI Test in Louisiana, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Feb. 5, 2014

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