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Why Hospital Blood tests for Alcohol level are not scientifically reliable in Massachusetts OUI arrests 

     In many cases, when you are involved in an accident, the Commonwealth will make a motion to summons your hospital records to determine your blood alcohol content.  While this motion is often allowed, it should be objected to as the Commonwealth does not have an unlimited right to summons medical records after any accident.  

Is the hospital blood test scientifically reliable?  

A hospital blood test is a quick screening test that the hospital used to determine if alcohol is at issue in your medical treatment; it is not a forensic scientific test.  There are a number of ways to challenge the reliability of a hospital test.  You will need to hire an expert to educate the judge on the scientific issues undermining the reliability of the tests as most judges assume the tests are reliable.  

What is the difference between whole blood and serum?  

A hospital blood test is of the Serum portion of the blood and not whole blood; the Massachusetts OUI statute requires that the blood alcohol level be converted to whole blood.  The medical community defines Serum as the portion of the blood that remains after the cells and the particular mater have been removed form the whole blood.  Serum has a greater percentage of water per volume than whole blood.  According to the medial experts, the amount of water and the amount of red blood cells play a major role in determining the propionate amount of alcohol in the blood.  

Why is the Serum alcohol percentage higher than Whole Blood?  

When alcohol is in the body alcohol is dispersed to all parts of the body in proportion to the water content of each part of the body.  When the hospital tests the serum portion of the blood, the percentage of alcohol in it will be higher than when whole blood is tested.  

What are some important issues with testing of blood to determine blood alcohol content?  

  • How is the skin cleaned?  If an alcohol based swab is used, that can increase the blood alcohol reading.  
  • What happens to the blood after it is drawn? 
    Once the blood is drawn it should be put into a vial that contains anticoagulants.  The purpose of the anticoagulant is to prevent the blood from clotting.  
  • At a hospital, the hospital will have a written procedure as to how blood is to be drawn.

Difference between a hospital blood test and forensic labs testing of blood.  

Gas Chromatography is the highest standard of accuracy for forensic testing.  It is the most accurate because it directly measures ethanol.  

Labs are suppose to run duplicative tests to make sure the first result was accurate.  Gas Chromatography works when the unknown standard is compared to a knowns standard.  A graph is produced that reflects the alcohol concentration.  

A hospital blood test uses enzymatic testing; the benefit of it is that the results are revealed quickly to help physicians make a medical diagnosis.  

According to the medical experts, Carrol Roehrenback and Raymond Russell in their article is Blood Thicker than Water,  Enzymatic testing measures the amount of light transmitted through a substance after a biochemical reaction.  

What is happening is alcohol is reacting with an enzyme specific for alcohol. There are different types of enzymatic testing according to Roehrenbeck and Russell that Attorneys should be aware of and find out through discovery which type of test the hospital used.  

Defense counsel can ask for a copy of the hospital’s laboratory procedure manual and hospital accredited authority procedure manual to make sure the correct method was followed.  

Enzymatic tests are not specific fore alcohol.  Other substances can procedure false positive readings.  There are other factors that can result in a high positive with an enzymatic test according to Roehrenbeck and Russell including someone’s physical condition and types of medication that the person is taking.  Attorneys can request how the enzymatic test was calibrated.  There is an expiration date on the test package.  

The conversion rate used to convert the serum reading to whole blood is an arbitrary number and may not reflect the actual conversion for a particular individual.  The conversion rates vary from 1:10:1 to 1::35:1 according to the medical literature.  The lack of scientifically reliable conversion is a way to challenge the admissibility of the blood test in evidence at an OUI trial.  

To learn more about Blood testing in Massachusetts OUI case, visit Attorney DelSignore website or follow us on Facebook for updates on current issues in Massachusetts DUI and criminal law.

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