Appeals Court Throws Out Convictions in North Carolina DWI Case
The North Carolina Court of Appeals overturned several convictions last week in the 2009 DWI trial of a Charlotte, North Carolina, woman. The appellate court found that evidence presented in the 2009 trial was unreliable and prejudicial. Law enforcement never obtained a test to determine the defendant’s blood alcohol content to support charges arising out of alleged DWI.
The matter arose out of an alleged incident occurring in 2008. A man stopped on a bridge in Belmont to assist two stranded motorists. He got out of his vehicle. Police claim the defendant crashed into the group on the bridge, killing the man standing outside on the bridge. Law enforcement claims the defendant then fled the scene.
Belmont police say they found the woman 10 hours after the accident. Law enforcement did not conduct any test of the woman to determine her blood alcohol content. Law enforcement claims the woman smelled of alcohol.
At trial, prosecutors introduced evidence that the woman had four beers and two mixed drinks the night of the accident, but no testimony that the woman appeared impaired. The prosecutor called an expert to testify that the woman was drunk when the accident allegedly occurred. The expert used a formula that uses the average elimination rate for alcohol in an adult.
The expert multiplied the average elimination rate multiplied by the number of hours between the accident and initial contact with the defendant in the case to determine her blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit in North Carolina.
The expert based the conclusion of the odor of alcohol reported by the police officer. The expert admitted it was the first time he made blood alcohol conclusions based upon the odor of alcohol.
The Court of appeals reversed several convictions based upon the evidence. The appellate court also ruled that certain prior convictions for DWI dating back to 1989 were too old to be used as evidence against the defendant. Use of the stale prior convictions also denied the woman her constitutional right to a fair trial.
Source: WSOC Charlotte, “Family Angry After Convictions Overturned in Fatal Crash,” 19 Nov 2010