Topeka — The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that a Douglas County judge was wrong to acquit a man charged with driving under the influence after a dispute arose about the accuracy of a breath test.
The case stems from the Aug. 19, 2007, arrest of Paul Finch. A sheriff’s deputy stopped Finch for weaving in and out of his lane, according to court records.
He was taken to county jail where he submitted to a breath test. The Intoxilyzer 5000 measured a blood-alcohol content of .080 grams, which is above the legal limit to drive a car.
Finch’s attorney argued the reading was insufficient to find him guilty of DUI beyond a reasonable doubt. Testimony during the trial indicated the Intoxilyzer machine showed variances between simulated tests. A law enforcement officer testified the variances were within a normal range and that the simulations couldn’t exactly replicate when a person was tested.
But District Court Judge Robert Fairchild agreed with the defense, granting a motion to acquit. Finch pleaded guilty to a remaining charge of failure to maintain a lane. The Douglas County District Attorney’s office asked the Kansas Supreme Court to consider the issue.
The Supreme Court said Fairchild made a mistake.
“The fact that the defense challenged the reliability and accuracy of the state’s evidence, introducing the concept of margin of error and prompting the officer’s stubborn insistence that no Intoxilyzer error was possible, made the case one for the jury’s evaluation and decision,” wrote Justice Carol Beier. “By granting the motion for judgment of acquittal, the judge erred. The evidence was neither so weak nor so strong that acquittal or conviction was assured as a mater of law. The jury should have been permitted to discharge its duty,” Beier wrote.
Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Nicole Romine said the Supreme Court decision simply clarifies how judges should treat cases where there is an argument over the accuracy of an Intoxilyzer result. Finch cannot be re-prosecuted on the DUI charge, she said.
But Romine said, “We are very happy with the result.” She said the state Supreme Court ruling makes clear that juries should be allowed to weigh the arguments over an Intoxilyzer result.