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TBI lab error brings thousands of DUI cases into question

When the prosecution puts scientific test results from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in front of a jury, there's a certain presumption that the data is accurate. Indeed, some legal experts might make the observation that because the results come from a noted lab, they must be infallible.

The reality is that humans do the testing, and where humans are involved, mistakes can happen. In a medical setting, such mistakes might have deadly results. In the legal context, the lives of innocent people are at stake. That being the case, it would seem that it would be smart to acknowledge the wisdom of the Ronald Reagan adage, "Trust, but verify."

Verification has proven to be particularly important in the case of a Tennessee man charged with vehicular homicide in connection with a fatal car-motorcycle crash in March. The 58-year-old motorcyclist died in the accident. 

The car driver was suspected of driving under the influence, and that suspicion seemed to be proven by TBI lab results that showed that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. The problem is, the results were wrong. The defense proved that by having an independent lab test the same blood. Those results came back showing a BAC of 0.01 percent.

As a result of the findings, the vehicular homicide charges have been dismissed, the lab technician at the TBI responsible for the testing has been suspended, and an investigation has been launched to see if any other cases might warrant reexamination.

One district attorney suggests there's no reason to wait on the results of that probe. He told WBIR TV that anyone arrested or convicted in a DUI case within the past year that involves BAC evidence should be in touch with their attorneys to consider their options.

Source: WSMV.com, "TN toxicology tests under scrutiny as TBI investigates lab worker," Carley Gordon, Oct. 23, 2013

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