SANDPOINT — You’re not automatically off the hook in a drunken-driving case if one of your breath samples registers below the legal limit, the Idaho Court of Appeals has ruled.
A Washington state woman convicted in Bonner County of driving under the influence argued in 1st District Court that her case should be dismissed because her first breath sample yielded an alcohol concentration of 0.054, which is below the legal limit of 0.08.
Subsequent samples by Tiffany Leigh Turbyfill were measured at 0.10 and 0.11, according to court documents.
Judge Steve Verby denied the motion, ruling that it presented an issue of fact that should be determined by a jury.
Turbyfill, a 29-year-old from Spokane, was ultimately convicted in the 2009 case. She was given a suspended prison term and two months in jail, court records show.
Turbyfill’s counsel subsequently appealed Verby’s ruling, arguing that a provision in state law ipso facto bars a DUI prosecution if a suspect submits a sample that’s below the legal limit.
But the appeals court ruled that prosecution is not barred if a test result of less than 0.08 was demonstrably inaccurate or unreliable. The court also held that the purpose of the DUI statute would not be served if test results on inadequate breath samples that understate a driver’s true breath alcohol concentration could be used to trigger the prosecution prohibition.
“Such an application of the statute would give drivers an incentive to produce deficient breath samples yielding inaccurate measures of breath alcohol content,” Judge Karen Lansing wrote in an opinion published on Friday.
Although it was not raised as a claim of error on appeal, the appellate court questioned the lower court’s decision to have jurors sort out the merits of the defense motion.
Lansing said Verby, not jurors, should have resolved the matter.
“If the resolution of any factual issues raised by the defendant’s motion to dismiss had to be referred to a jury, then the defendant would be subjected to prosecution all the way through a jury trial instead of receiving the protection that the statute is intended to provide, which is freedom from prosecution at all,” wrote Lansing.
However, since that issue was not raised on appeal, the higher court declined to determine whether any remedy is available.
Chief Judge David Gratton and Judge John Melanson concurred.