A chronic backlog at state crime labs may have benefitted a client who was found not guilty of DUI at his Nov. 9 trial in Clark County District Court.
When our client was stopped July 4 for erratic driving, he agreed to a blood test.
He did not agree to waive his right to a speedy trial, however, and both the deputy prosecutor and arresting officer told jurors at trial they hadn’t yet received the results.
Instead of going to trial without the results, the prosecutor could have dismissed the case and refiled it after receiving them.
Attorney Ross Meyers encouraged jurors to consider why a prosecutor would go to trial without the test results.
It’s the prosecution’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime was committed, he said during his closing argument. The single most important piece of evidence was left out.
The six-member jury deliberated approximately 90 minutes before unanimously voting to acquit.
Driving under the influence, a gross misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail. Meyers' client would have also had his driver’s license suspended for 90 days had he been convicted.
The Washington State Patrol trooper who made the arrest testified the client admitted he’d used methamphetamine and marijuana about 12 hours earlier but said he didn’t feel impaired.
The trooper said he made the traffic stop because the client was speeding, didn’t signal before a lane change and veered a few times onto the shoulder of the highway. He said the client had mixed results on field sobriety tests, something Meyers told jurors could be attributed to nerves. And his client’s eyes, noted by the trooper to be bloodshot and watery, could have appeared that way because he hadn’t got a good night’s sleep.
Meyers emphasized to the jury that his client, who was transported to Legacy Salmon Creek Hospital to have his blood drawn, wasn’t exhibiting any signs of stimulant abuse. His heart rate, blood pressure and temperature were all normal.
The only way to know for certain whether he was under the influence was the blood test, Meyers said.
Both the prosecutor and trooper told jurors it takes months to get results.
In October, the Department of Justice awarded $3.5 million in grants to address backlogs at Washington state crime labs. DNA testing was singled out as a priority, but one grant, worth $250,000, was specifically for additional equipment and staff at the Washington State Patrol Toxicology Lab.