Miscalculations in DWI cases

Errors in alcohol concentration tests involved 111 samples, but few are expected to affect pending cases.

By DAVID CHANEN, Star Tribune

Last update: July 12, 2010 - 9:08 PM

Alcohol concentrations were miscalculated in more than 100 urine samples tested since January by an Andover crime lab, but in only a few cases will drunken-driving charges be dropped against drivers as a result, authorities said Monday.

The 111 samples tested at the Tri County Regional Forensic Laboratory, which serves Anoka, Sherburne and Wright counties, had alcohol concentration results approximately one-third higher than they should have been, said Lt. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff's Office. Eleven cases will be dismissed after corrected results showed concentrations under the legal driving limit of 0.08, he said.

The lab's two forensic technicians used a wrong numerical value when calculating the final alcohol concentration at the end of the testing process, he said. There wasn't anything tainted in the actual testing of the samples, he said.

"There was no bad science," Sommer said.

In a letter to law enforcement agencies that submitted samples, the lab said the reported results reflected grams of alcohol per 67 milliliters of urine when they actually reflected grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters. Corrected results have been sent to the agencies.

"You should provide this information to the prosecuting attorneys who handled these cases so they can fulfill their ethical obligations to the affected lawyers and individuals," the letter said.

The lab realized the mistakes several weeks ago when the reported results of the urine tests were higher than the preliminary breath tests, he said. Lab officials asked the state's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to audit their testing process. They determined "this is nothing more than a calculation error," the letter said.

"We have made the correction and are moving forward," the letter said. "We remain committed to providing quality and accurate testing."

The Andover lab opened last year. Although the testing had little impact on any of its cases, Wright County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Joe Hagerty said the errors were "definitely an issue."

The mistake did give one arrested driver in Wright County a bit of a break. The man's alcohol level was still over the legal limit after re-testing, but if he successfully follows conditions of his probation, the drunken-driving charge will be expunged from his record in a year. An implied-consent charge will remain.

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