State lab test questions may impact local DUI cases
July 3, 2013
District Attorney Bruce Brown is initiating the process of retesting blood-alcohol samples in local DUI cases, including one case that involves a vehicular homicide charge, after a report exposed potentially biased results from tests performed by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) toxicology lab.
Brown, who spent years as a defense attorney, says he doubts the results of any state lab tests were inaccurate, but is willing to invest money from the DA's office budget to have the samples retested by private labs.
"We're taking a very aggressive posture, because we want to avoid any chance that any cases will be compromised," he said. "We're taking the approach to make sure everything was done correctly."
The blood sample of Maverick James Bain, who is charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Blake Roberts last year, will be among those retested. Bain was allegedly under the influence of alcohol when he crashed the Jeep he was driving on Ski Hill Road in Breckenridge. Roberts was thrown from the vehicle and killed.
“We’re taking a very aggressive posture, because we want to avoid any chance that any cases will be compromised. We’re taking the approach to make sure everything was done correctly.”
The questions regarding the accuracy of lab testing are limited to blood screenings. There are no indications of problems with breath tests used in Summit County cases. Brown anticipates that the number of cases in which samples are retested will be limited.
"We're talking about a relatively narrow universe of cases," he said.
Currently, the state health and environment department has suspended all blood alcohol and blood drug testing until further notice, and is retesting 800 samples through an independent lab to verify the results.
Local law enforcement agencies are also taking precautions and have begun using alternative labs for testing in new DUI cases.
"On the advice of the DA, (last) month we switched labs and have been sending our chemical test kits to Chematox in Boulder," Summit County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Tracy LeClair stated in an email. She said the switch will not represent a significant price increase and that the cost is recovered through court fees defendants must pay if they are convicted.
The moves came after defense attorneys in Colorado released a report they said shed doubt on results from the state lab. The report addresses issues with employee training and the security of sample storage.
Brown said a copy of the full report is being made available in all ongoing cases as part of the discovery process.
"Through a process of transparency, we can minimize the potential courtroom impact of any issues related to the CDPHE lab practices and encourage an open discussion to make sure we get things done right," he said.
As a defense attorney, Brown said he frequently had his clients' blood samples tested independently and never saw a flaw in results from the state lab.
While measures are being taken to ensure the report doesn't impact ongoing cases, there are avenues for individuals who have been sentenced and their cases closed to ensure the received a fair court process.
"If some people wanted to challenge the basis of their conviction, that is not an extraordinary step in situations like this," Brown said. "There are mechanisms for that to go forward. We're just trying to pave the way to get those people as much information as possible. The longer people wait to do something like that, the less likely it is that the court will recognize the validity of a claim."
The full text of the report is available on the district attorney's website at http://www.da5.us.
The Denver Post contributed to the reporting of this story.