JUDGES AND LEGISLATORS IN OHIO - TELL JURIES THE TRUTH ABOUT BREATH TESTS!

This note concerns the recent suppression of the test results of the Intoxylizer 8000 in several DUI cases in Athens County Ohio. While prosecutors insist that the machine is a valid indicator of the amount of alcohol in a person's body, the decision by Judge Liston brings up a much deeper issue.

The case of State v. Vega, decided in 1984 by the Ohio Supreme Court, ruled that juries are not entitled to know the salient truth of the breath testing devices used throughout the State of Ohio. That case stated that once the Ohio Department of Health approved a breath testing device for use in Ohio, neither the accuracy of that device nor the validity of the breath testing concept itself were subjects for discussion at trial. This means that for the past 29 years juries have been led to believe that breath tests were in fact an actual indicator of the amount of alcohol in a person's body, a fact which, if true, was an accident at best and hardly sufficient to meet the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In our great system of justice, the jury trial has been touted as a search for truth by an unbiased body of our fellow citizens. The Court is the gatekeeper of evidence presented to the jury, thus allowing the jury to have information about the case that is reasonably accurate and reliable. In a DUI case, because of Vega, this concept is abandoned. Even though the scientific evidence may not support the accuracy of the breath test result, juries are not allowed to be told this. Politics have entered the courtroom in DUI cases. Regardless of the truth of the evidence, politicians (including judges) want to control the jury verdicts by dictating what evidence juries can hear before they reach a verdict. This violates every principle of justice that has stood the test of time for centuries, resulting in the conviction of innocent people.

I do not propose that juries not be entitled to hear and consider the breath test result, whatever it may be. However, if juries are to be told the truth, they should be permitted to hear that the test result might not be accurate when deciding how much weight to be given to it. Ohio's legislature keeps lowering the legal limit over which one may not drive, but totally ignores its duty to require that accurate testing be provided and that juries be told the truth about defects in the testing process.