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BAC, Officer Observations Support DUI

The Alexandria U.S. District Court affirms the magistrate judge’s decision and upholds defendant’s DUI conviction because there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt, including an officer’s observation of defendant’s multiple lane violations, defendant’s smell of alcohol and faulty performance of a field sobriety test, and his BAC of .081 an hour and 43 minutes after his arrest.

Contradictory testimony

Defendant argues the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove that defendant was under the influence of alcohol to a degree that rendered him incapable of safely operating the vehicle. Defendant contends the magistrate judge erred for four reasons.

First, he contends the evidence did not establish any meaningful nexus between alcohol consumption and weaving between lanes when looking at the totality of the evidence. However, rather than considering the totality of the evidence, defendant’s first argument rests narrowly on his companion’s testimony suggesting that the reason defendant may have failed to stay in one lane is attributable to him looking down at his GPS on his cell phone for directions. The court finds a reasonable fact finder could have credited testimony and evidence that contradicted this suggestion. His companion stated she did not notice any swerving or lane violations and her testimony contradicted the officer’s account of witnessing seven lane violations. Even if a rational fact finder were to attribute a few lane violations to defendant looking at his GPS, a rational fact finder could determine that not all seven lane violations were attributable to looking at the GPS. The government also offered evidence of defendant’s glass eyes, the horizontal gaze nystagmus field sobriety test results and the Intoximeter test results. The government offered sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to link alcohol to defendant’s ability to safely operate the vehicle.

Contrary to defendant’s objection, the magistrate judge did not rely solely on the HGN test results, but also looked to defendant’s driving conduct. Nor did the magistrate judge err by relying upon the roadside breath test in making his finding of guilt. In fact, he gave the RBT test “scant weight” during the suppression hearing.

The court also rejects defendant’s contention that there is “no statutory authority” for the magistrate judge to have drawn an inference about defendant’s BAC level at 4:30 a.m., based upon the Intoximeter test results at 6:13 a.m. No statutory authority prohibits a fact finder from drawing a reasonable inference. The Intoximeter test results were not the only evidence of defendant’s intoxication; the arresting officer observed defendant’s driving and smelled the odor of alcohol on defendant. The Supreme Court has recognized that the percentage of alcohol in the blood begins to diminish shortly after drinking stops, as the body functions to eliminate it from the system, as a result of the body’s natural metabolic processes. The magistrate judge did not err in drawing a reasonable inference that defendant’s BAC level at the time of arrest have been higher, considering that the traffic stop occurred one hour and 43 minutes prior to the Intoximeter test at 6:13 a.m., showing .081grams per 210 liters of breath.

The district court affirms the magistrate judge’s decision and upholds defendant’s DUI conviction.

U.S. v. Saint-Surin (Lee) No. 1:17cr75, June 22, 2017; USDC at Alexandria, Va.; Rosie Haney, AUSA. VLW 017-3-348, 10 pp.

VLW 017-3-348