Defending a DUI charge in Idaho just got tougher. My client was stopped for failure to signal a lane change and for speeding. He admitted drinking, and after barely failing field sobriety tests, was offered a breath test. The breath testing instrument, a Lifeloc FC20, indicated a BAC of 0.92/.087. The legal limit in Idaho is 0.80.
There is a margin of error in breath testing. It is not an exact science. So one element of the defense to DUI for close cases has always been to argue reasonable doubt i.e., the blood alcohol level, with a margin of error of .0264. My client’s test results could be as low as.0656 to .0606. Both my client’s results would be well below the legal limit of .08.
In this case, the State asked the judge to preclude the admission of “margin of error” testimony relying upon the recent Idaho Supreme Court case of Elias-Cruz v. Idaho Department of Transportation, 153 Idaho 200, 280 P.3d.703 (2012). In Elias-Cruz, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled, in an administrative license suspension case, that the testing machine’s margin of error is irrelevant. The issue is not the alcohol concentration of the blood. It is the alcohol concentration shown by the test results. All that is required is that the test results show that the alcohol concentration was above the legal limit. In other words, if the test results show that the alcohol concentration was above the legal limit, then the license is suspended. Since the driver in that case failed to show that her test results were below the legal limit, then her license was properly suspended.
The question of whether Elias-Cruz’s holding that the “margin of error” of breath testing instruments is irrelevant in DUI defense cases has been decided by three magistrate judges in the Fourth Judicial District, Ada County, Idaho.
One magistrate ruled that Elias-Cruz’s holding did not apply to DUI defense cases and was limited to administrative license suspension cases. See State v. Cravens, CR-MD-2011-0013066 (decided August, 2012). The magistrate ruled that the DUI statute does not limit the right of a defendant to introduce evidence to the jury relevant to “the weight and credibility of breathalyzer evidence, or to attack the reliability of both the test results and the process utilized on that defendant.”
In contrast, two other magistrates, including in my case, have now ruled Elias-Cruz applies to DUI cases and that “margin of error” evidence is therefore inadmissible. See State v. Myrick, CR-FE-2011-0020266 (October 1, 2012) and State v. Tabish, CR-MD-2012-0005728 (2012).
It is uncertain as to whether Idaho appellate courts will apply Elias-Cruz in all DUI defense cases. At this time, it is uncertain whether “margin of error” evidence will be allowed in the courts in the Fourth Judicial District. Previously, such evidence was admissible. Accordingly, the defense of DUI cases just got much tougher in Idaho.
My client entered a conditional guilty plea. I hope he decides to appeal. This ruling needs to be reversed. I will always fight for my clients’ rights in criminal cases.