Defendant wins exclusion of breath-test results in traffic infraction case

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A man who sought to suppress evidence of his alcohol concentration equivalent during prosecution for a traffic infraction has secured a reversal from the Court of Appeals of Indiana.

In August 2019, Bryan Priest was issued a traffic citation that left him charged with Class C infraction operating a commercial motor vehicle with an ACE of .042. The traffic citation for “B.A.C.[blood alcohol concentration] 0.042” was filed in the Plainfield Town Court.

In October 2020, Priest filed a motion to suppress the evidence of his ACE, which the state opposed. On Nov. 24, 2020, an “Infraction Judgment” was issued against Priest finding him “guilty as charged.” He was ordered to pay a fine and court costs totaling $162.

The Hendricks Superior Court set a date for a trial de novo per Priest’s request, in which the state filed a “Brief in Support of Breath Test Admissibility.” However it did not attach or otherwise file any breath test results other than the “B.A.C. 0.042” notation contained on the traffic citation itself.

Priest moved to exclude the “breath test ticket” and requested that the trial de novo date be converted to an “attorneys only hearing on a motion to exclude,” which the trial court granted.

Although Priest argued evidence of his ACE should be excluded on hearsay grounds, no evidence was offered or admitted at the hearing, and the trial court overruled his hearsay objection.

In an interlocutory appeal before the Court of Appeals, Priest challenged the denial of his motion to suppress evidence, alleging the “breath-test results” were inadmissible hearsay.

The appellate court agreed, reversing in Bryan Priest v. State of Indiana, 21A-MI-551.

The COA noted the only evidence in the record related to Priest’s ACE or BAC was the traffic citation itself, which did not state who was tested, what test was used, who did the testing and what the test results were.

“Rather, the traffic ticket issued to Priest — which was completed and signed by an Indiana State Police Officer who did not appear at the suppression hearing or otherwise testify — stated only: ‘B.A.C. 0.042.’ That statement, alone, is clearly hearsay; it is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted,” Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote.

Further, the court found that while the prosecutor referred in his hearing argument to “the Intoxilyzer ticket,” the “BAC Datamaster,” a “certification” and the “Intoxilyzer ECIR2 instrument,” no such evidence was offered or admitted into evidence, “and the prosecutor’s statements themselves are, obviously, not evidence.”

“Thus, the trial court’s denial of Priest’s motion to suppress the evidence of his ACE was not supported by substantial evidence of probative value; rather, the only evidence the State presented — the bald statement in the traffic citation that Priest’s ‘B.A.C.’ was ‘0.042’ — was inadmissible hearsay,” Bailey concluded.

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