Reversal: Drunk driver’s BAC lower than listed in conviction

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A man’s drunken driving convictions were reversed Friday after the Indiana Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence that his blood alcohol concentration met the requisite limit for the convictions.

While investigating a vehicle collision, several Indianapolis police officers noticed a vehicle speeding toward them in the adjacent lane. The oncoming vehicle, driven by Alfonso Artigas, nearly struck one officer before coming to a halt.

 Officers observed that Artigas had slurred speech and glassy eyes and smelled of alcohol. A hospital lab report later found Artigas’ blood had “a whole blood ethyl alcohol concentration in the range of 0.070 to 0.084% w/v (0.070 to 0.084 g/100mL).”

Thus, Artigas was charged under Indiana Code section 9-30-5-1(a) with operating a vehicle while intoxicated endangering a person, operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent to at least .08 but less than .15 g/100mL of blood, and driving without a license. Artigas was only found guilty of the latter two charges, and he received partially suspended, 60-day concurrent sentences for both, plus 180 days of probation for driving without a license.

But the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his convictions in Alfonso Artigas v. State of Indiana, 18A-CR-2877, finding there was insufficient evidence to prove Artigas’ blood alcohol concentration was at least .080 g/100mL, rather than below 0.080 g/100mL.

Finding the state misplaced its focus on visible signs of impairment, the appellate court noted section 9-30-5-1(a) “creates strict liability for operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration within the specified range, irrespective of whether the operator exhibits signs of intoxication.”

“Indeed, under Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-1(a) — in contrast to Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-2(a) — the question is not whether a person was physically or mentally impaired by alcohol. Rather, to convict the defendant, the fact-finder must instead determine how much alcohol — down to hundredths of a gram — was in 100 milliliters of a person’s blood when that person operated a vehicle,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote for the court. “Only the laboratory report was relevant to this inquiry. Indeed, evidence of visible intoxication is not probative of a particular scientific measurement.”

“…Here, the State presented evidence that Artigas displayed signs of intoxication when he was pulled over around 3:00 a.m., and that his blood alcohol concentration was somewhere from .07 to .084 g/100mL at 3:53 a.m.,” Bailey continued. “From this evidence, a fact-finder could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Artigas’s blood alcohol concentration was at least .08 g/100mL when he operated the vehicle. Thus, there is insufficient evidence to support a conviction as charged under Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-1(a).”

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