'When you first walk into this," says local attorney Timothy Bussey, "you think that you take somebody's blood, it goes into a tube, you throw it into a machine, and it gives you a result."
Bussey is describing the average person's view of prosecuting drunk drivers. And, indeed, it sounds pretty reasonable. But wade into the intricacies and subtleties of both the law and the science, and you begin to see how complicated blood alcohol testing is.
About a dozen defense attorneys with whom we spoke for this week's cover story say they've been fighting for years to convince courts and juries that a test result is only as good as the lab that produces it. And the toxicology lab overseen by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, where thousands of blood samples are tested every year, generates deep suspicion and frustration among many in the defense bar.
The state Legislature has written strict guidelines dictating what does and doesn't constitute drunk driving, based on the results of your blood alcohol test. There's no need for the prosecutor to find witnesses to your intoxication. There is no evidence required at all, other than what the state toxicology lab says was in your blood at the time of your arrest.
After all, blood — just like a fingerprint — doesn't lie.
But it can be misunderstood.
"To say that we are a certified laboratory and everything is OK," says Bussey, "it's really not so simple."