In order to obtain a conviction for a DUI offense, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had a blood-alcohol level at or above the legal limit at the time the defendant was operating a motor vehicle. Because police usually rely on a non-portable breath alcohol analyzer or a blood test to prove intoxication, defendants are often not tested until several hours after they have been stopped by police. When a test result after arrest demonstrates a blood alcohol level below the legal limit at the time of the test, police and prosecutors rely on a scientific technique known as retrograde extrapolation to estimate a defendant’s blood alcohol content at the time they were operating a motor vehicle. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently affirmed the aggravated DUI conviction of a defendant whose blood alcohol level had been estimated using retrograde extrapolation.
Retrograde extrapolation is a technique used by police departments and prosecutors to determine and prove a person’s blood-alcohol level at the time they were operating a vehicle, as opposed to when the sample was actually collected. Crime lab chemists will apply a formula that approximate the average rate of decline and a person’s blood-alcohol level and use that to estimate a person’s blood-alcohol level at a time prior to the sample being taken. Although Arizona courts accept retrograde extrapolation as a method of proving intoxication, it is far from a perfect science.
The results of a retrograde extrapolation can be inaccurate for several reasons. First, each person metabolizes alcohol at a different rate, and simply applying the average rate of metabolization to every sample guarantees some inaccurate results. Furthermore, if a defendant consumed alcohol shortly before their arrest, their blood alcohol level may increase rather than decrease in the time before their sample is taken. If standard retrograde extrapolation is applied, the result would be inflated and inaccurate.
In the recently decided case, the defendant was charged with an aggravated DUI after he was involved in a single-car accident and police were called. He was arrested, booked in jail, and given a breath test over 2 hours after he was stopped. His test result was nearly three times the legal limit in Arizona, and he was subsequently charged with aggravated DUI. According to the case history discussed in the appellate opinion, prosecutors used retrograde extrapolation to estimate the defendant’s blood alcohol content at the time of his arrest. The defendant was convicted of the charges against him and sentenced to a significant prison term.
The defendant appealed his conviction. Among other issues, he challenged the propriety of using retrograde extrapolation to estimate his blood alcohol level. Because his blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit when the test was administered, the high court was not convinced that the use of retrograde extrapolation to estimate an even higher BAC when he was operating a motor vehicle was prejudicial to his defense. Essentially, the court found that with or without retrograde extrapolation, the state could have easily proven that he was over the limit while he was driving the vehicle. The court also rejected the defendant’s other contentions, and his conviction was affirmed.
Are You Preparing a Defense to Arizona DUI Charges?
If you or someone you know has been arrested or charged with a DUI or other crime in Arizona, retaining an experienced criminal defense attorney can make the difference between a conviction and a dismissal or acquittal. The Law Office of James E. Novak is staffed by qualified attorneys who know how to fight against Arizona DUI charges. James Novak is an experienced Maricopa County criminal defense attorney who can skillfully handle a variety of Arizona criminal cases, including DUIs. We can help you develop the best defense to the charges brought against you. To schedule a free consultation and discuss your case today, call 480-413-1499.