State Police: Over 4K driver blood alcohol tests faulty

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

A battle is expected between Michigan State Police and defense lawyers over the results of 4,001 alcohol-related cases that were analyzed using faulty calibration.

Sixty-five cases were reported with higher alcohol contents than they should have had, according to state police. The difference, they added, was slight and not enough to move them across the legal threshold, MSP spokeswoman Shanon Banner said.

Defense attorney Michael Nichols, who was in court Monday on a drunk driving case which is among those cited in the report, questioned Monday how many times the State Police Forensic Science Division Toxicology Unit made mistakes that were not caught.

“How many times did something go wrong (with the MSP lab) and you did not find out about it,” Nichols said. “It should be a wake-up call for juries, judges and prosecutors.”

Of the 4,001 cases, half require corrections, according to an official with the Michigan State Police. The differences were between -0.002 grams per deciliter, the measurement of alcohol in the blood, to +0.004 g/dL. Drivers in Michigan are considered impaired if they have a blood alcohol content level is 0.080 or greater.

At issue is the “processing method” used to calibrate the alcohol content in blood samples submitted to the State Police for testing when an individual is believed to have been legally drunk, and in many cases, also driving. The problem affected alcohol cases from Dec. 14, 2015, to April 13.

The problem was discovered in April “during a routine case review,” according to a letter sent to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association of Michigan from L. Scott Marier, the acting commander of the State Police’s forensic science division.

Of the 4,001 cases, 1,994 were reported to not need correcting, including 1,253 that had an original reading of 0.000 g/dL. Of the 741 remaining cases, the values measured didn’t change.

Results needed correcting in 2,007 cases: 65 cases with values lower than 0.06 were originally reported with higher values, 1,941 cases with values above the threshold of 0.060 were originally reported with lower test values than were supported by test data and one was originally reported with a higher level than what was later supported by the data.

Marier’s letter to prosecutors across the state also indicated that among the 1,941 cases 18 were amended to move the individual to the legal threshold to Super Drunk, measured at 0.170.

“It’s important to note that none of the cases originally reported near Michigan’s legal blood alcohol limit of 0.080 have amended results that move them across this threshold in either direction,” Marier wrote.

As of June 5, the State Police’s toxicology unit began using a new capillary column for blood alcohol testing in two gas chromatographs at its labs. The previous model, according to Marier’s letter, is no longer manufactured.

Michael Wendling, the president of Prosecuting Attorneys’ Association of Michigan said Monday “the MSP Lab did an exceptional job of identifying the error, and although it was very insignificant, distributing the corrected information to prosecutors and police agencies promptly.”

The Wayne County Prosecutor Office said Monday it is sending out letters to attorneys in 89 alcohol-related cases the office was involved in notifying them of the faulty testing calibration of testing in those cases by the Michigan State Police lab, officials announced Monday.

There are about 313 other alcohol-related cases across Wayne County that could be impacted by the MSP lab problem, according to Kym Worthy’s office.

“We will work cooperatively to resolve any issues that arise from the information received from the Michigan State Police Forensic Services Division,” said Worthy Monday in a press statement.

Banner said prosecutors were notified about the situation with the calibration July 7.

Banner added MSP took “immediate corrective action” to correct the problem and to make sure the incorrect calibration model would not be used again.

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