Series of Fortunate Events Help Lead to BAC Suppression in Interesting Colorado DUI Case!
By: Mary Ann Pekara
A recent decision by the Colorado Supreme Court reveals a loophole with Colorado DUI law and further demonstrates the importance of knowing the DUI laws in your state when stopped on suspicion of drunk driving.
In a tight 4-3 decision, the Colorado Supreme Court tossed out a breath test result against a man arrested on suspicion of DUI last week after authorities were unable to meet his request for a blood test. Current Colorado DUI law does not adequately cover DUI cases where one test is not present, according to the majority opinion.
An express-consent law allows Colorado DUI suspects to ask for a blood test rather than a breath test to determine their blood alcohol content (BAC) levels. After being stopped on suspicion of DUI in Aurora on April 29, 2005, suspect Glenn Turbyne refused a breath test and rather asked for a blood test. Authorities could not attain the blood test within the two hours specified by Colorado DUI law due to inclement weather and a heavy workload for paramedics.
Upon refusing the breathalyzer, Turbyne was told by an officer that his license could be revoked for a year. Turbyne then agreed to the breathalyzer test, which showed his BAC to be nearly two times above the legal 0.08 limit under Colorado DUI law. Turbyne's Colorado DUI charge was initially dropped, then reinstated by a district court and finally upheld by the state Supreme Court.
However, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the breathalyzer test result could not be submitted as evidence because the officer had inadvertently threatened Turbyne by warning him about possibly having his license revoked. The state Supreme Court did rule that District Attorney Carol Chambers may still file Colorado DUI charges against Turbyne based on other evidence. Chambers said she is not sure if she will choose to do so.
Turbyne's Colorado DUI lawyer vehemently opposed this aspect of the decision. Shawn Gillum said that allowing DUI charges to still be filed against Turbyne would make it too easy for law enforcement to ignore the requests of suspects and obtain Colorado DUI convictions without blood or breath tests by simply citing reasons like the weather was too bad. Dissenting Justice Alex Martinez agreed and said that inclement weather is not a valid reason to not administer a blood test.
Majority justices felt that Turbyne didn't do anything that warranted revoking his driver's license, and also agreed that he was coerced into the breathalyzer test by the officer's misstatement of the express-consent Colorado DUI law.
This case may prompt changes to Colorado DUI law, according to one state senator. Senate Judiciary Committee Vice-chairman John Morse suggested that Colorado DUI law may be changed in order to better allow Colorado law enforcement to keep drunken driving suspects off the road. Morse also added that officers need to make the penalties of breathalyzer refusals known to suspects without coercing them into taking the test.
This case teaches an important lesson for any DUI suspect.
- While breathalyzer test results are the most powerful and common form of evidence in most DUI cases, they are not 100% certain. A blood test is the truest way to determine BAC. Breathalyzer refusals carry different penalties in states, so it may or not be advantageous to submit to a breath test. If you do submit a breath test which is above the legal 0.08 limit in all 50 states and your state does not require a blood test like Colorado does, you may have the option of asking for a blood test to contest a BAC result which you feel is wrong.