A high-profile DUI case in Florida is putting blood tests into question

by

BETH CORTEZ-NEAVEL FOLLOW/FLICKR
  • Beth Cortez-Neavel Follow/Flickr
Attorneys for a Palm Beach County millionaire convicted of DUI manslaughter will go before the Florida Supreme Court this week to challenge state rules for testing blood-alcohol levels in drunken-driving cases.

The hearing Wednesday is part of years of legal wrangling in the high-profile case of John Goodman, who was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in the 2010 traffic death of Scott Patrick Wilson.

Justices will hear arguments about whether the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has adequate rules to ensure that blood-alcohol tests conducted in DUI cases provide accurate results. The arguments will focus, at least in part, on allegations that the state doesn't have adequate safeguards to prevent drawn blood from clotting —- potentially resulting in artificially high measurements of blood-alcohol levels —- and doesn't require proper screening of samples.

“Because neither the rules nor the FDLE-approved standard operating procedures require screening and documenting, criminal defendants have no guarantee that the blood samples tested for use in their criminal trials are scientifically reliable,” Goodman's attorneys wrote in a December 2016 brief. “More specifically, a criminal defendant has no guarantee that he or she will know when his or her sample is clotted or irregular because the rules do not require screening or documentation, or rejection of unfit samples. Without adequate procedures in place, there is no way to ensure the scientific reliability of the blood test result.”

But Attorney General Pam Bondi's office is asking the Supreme Court to uphold a ruling last year by the 4th District Court of Appeal that rejected Goodman's arguments. Earlier, an administrative law judge also sided with the state.

Blood-alcohol tests in suspected DUI cases are rooted in what is known as a state “implied consent” law. Under that law, people effectively agree to be subject to blood- or breath-alcohol tests when they receive driver's licenses.

“The department's rules sufficiently regulate blood draws and blood alcohol testing in a manner that ensures the reliability and accuracy of blood alcohol test results for purposes of Florida's implied consent law,” attorneys in Bondi's office argued in a March brief. “Based on all the evidence presented, Goodman's challenge —- grounded in alleged problems stemming from blood clots and hemoconcentration —- fails.”

Goodman, whose DUI manslaughter case drew heavy media attention, sought during his trial in Palm Beach County circuit court to exclude blood-alcohol test results because of alleged problems with the testing rules. But the issue was sent to an administrative law judge because it involved questions about the validity of administrative rules approved by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

As an example of the details raised in the case, Goodman's attorneys contend that a state rule does not properly spell out the type of needle to be used in drawing blood in DUI cases. They argue that a type of needle used on Goodman has a higher chance of blood clotting —- and resulting in artificially elevated blood-alcohol levels.

In a separate proceeding from the issues going before the Supreme Court this week, the 4th District Court of Appeal in July upheld Goodman's conviction. The appeals court rejected a series of arguments, including a contention that investigators violated Goodman's rights by not getting a warrant before drawing blood.

comment