Peter Vieth//August 20, 2015
Peter Vieth//August 20, 2015//
Lawyers defending drunken driving cases have a new tool that should save time and effort in checking on blood-alcohol reports from the state lab.
The state Department of Forensic Science is making additional breath alcohol records available online.
The department receives around 400 requests a month, mostly from attorneys, for alcohol test records. Lawyers use both court subpoenas and public information requests to seek the records.
Until now, staffers had to respond individually to each request, costing staff time and money.
Posting the most commonly requested breath alcohol records on the Internet offers “convenient and timely access,” said Katya N. Herndon, Chief Deputy Director at DFS.
Instrument quality assurance records have been available online since June 2014. The searchable records on the DFS website now include expanded instrument records, operator records, subject test records and statistical reports, Herndon said.
Don’t expect to check to see how drunk your buddy was when he was pulled last week. Personally identifying information has been redacted from the subject test records.
Del. Scott A. Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, has been urging state officials for several years to find a more efficient way to allow attorneys to get the information they need to consider any challenges to the breath records of their clients.
“I just felt state employees were wasting a lot of their time responding to these requests,” Surovell said.
Surovell said he discussed the issue with Brian Moran of Fairfax, the state Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
The agency first sought outside help with the project.
“We contacted the manufacturer of the current evidential breath test instruments, but the manufacturer did not have such a system available,” Herndon said.
Later, DFS obtained $37,500 from a grant administered by the state Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Office, she said.
The resulting online access system is not just a useful tool for DUI attorneys, but a transparency tool as well, Surovell said. Some overall statistical information is readily available.
An inquiry about test results by BAC level for 2014 produced a bell-curve graph showing that most test results were from .10 to .17 BAC (g/210L). The peak was .13.
Also available are statistics on the average test results by age of the people tested.
“There’s a lot of data in there,” Surovell said.
A report on breath alcohol tests by locality for the first seven months of this year showed the city of Virginia Beach conducted the most tests (858), while the town of Narrows appeared to have the highest average BAC (.225).
Narrows tested only two persons in that time period, both presumably soused.
There is “one missing piece” in the online records, Surovell said.
The records available on the web are not authenticated and, once printed, cannot be authenticated by DFS staff.
Lawyers who need authenticated records still have to submit a record request to the Breath Alcohol Section of DFS.
Surovell said he is working with the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Secretary of Technology in hopes of developing a system to make authenticated records readily available.
“A lot of stakeholders have to be brought together,” Surovell said.