SOMERSET, Pa. — People who told police they were not that drunk while driving may have been right in one Pennsylvania county.
Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser said her office has not been performing a mathematical calculation needed to convert hospital tests on drivers’ blood, which enable the results to be used as evidence in court, the Daily American reported.
“It was an unfortunate oversight,” the prosecutor said.
She explained that the hospital began testing drivers’ blood serum — or plasma — not whole blood, in June 2010. As a result, the blood-alcohol content has been overestimated by as much as 15 percent on DUI cases using hospital blood samples since then.
The blood-alcohol level is used to determine whether someone is legally drunk and, in some cases, whether they deserve more severe punishment. Under Pennsylvania law, drivers are considered drunk if their blood-alcohol content is 0.08 percent or higher.
Tests using blood serum can be used as evidence, but only if a calculation is done to convert the percentage of alcohol found in the serum as though it were taken from a whole blood sample.
Lazzari-Strasiser said her office has reviewed more than 570 cases and eliminated them as being affected by the discrepancy. The remaining 180-plus that could have been affected will be reviewed by next week.
Defense attorney Steve Miller expects no more than 2 percent of all cases might have to be retried or dismissed.
“I believe the perception of this problem will be significantly greater than the actual problem,” Miller said.
An assistant district attorney discovered the blood-alcohol percentages weren’t being converted when he was preparing for a recent case.
Lazzari-Strasiser said the hospital and police have done nothing wrong.
“It’s the prosecution’s responsibility to make sure that the levels are correct,” she said.