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Navigating Scientific Standards in DUI Convictions: The Case of Randy Dale Mabus

Town Law Publishing Feb. 22, 2024

breathalyzer testCom. v. Randy Dale Mabus, 2023 PA Super 149 (Aug. 3, 2023)

In a recent ruling that has stirred discussions among legal and scientific communities, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the judgment of sentence in the case of Randy Dale Mabus. Mabus was convicted on charges of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and other related offenses in the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County. The crux of the appeal centered on the admissibility of breath test results, which Mabus contended should be excluded due to the absence of uncertainty values and corresponding confidence intervals.

Background of the Case

On February 28, 2019, Randy Dale Mabus was arrested and charged with several DUI offenses following a traffic stop. Subsequently, Mabus filed a pre-trial motion in limine to exclude the results of a breath test conducted by Pennsylvania State Corporal Joshua Herman. Mabus argued that the breath test, being a scientific test, must conform to general scientific principles, which include reporting results with corresponding uncertainty and confidence intervals to assess the accuracy of the test.

At an evidentiary hearing, Mabus's defense presented expert testimony from Heather L. Harris, MFS, JD, an expert in the field of forensic and analytical chemistry. Harris testified about the importance of metrology (the science of measurement) in analytical chemistry and the necessity of reporting uncertainty and confidence intervals in scientific measurements. She argued that the breath test results in Mabus's case were scientifically unreliable due to the lack of these values.

The Trial Court's Decision

The trial court denied Mabus's motion in limine, allowing the breath test results to be admitted into evidence. Mabus was subsequently convicted of the charges and sentenced to six months' probation with the first thirty days consisting of in-home confinement with electronic monitoring.

breathalyzer test

The Appeal and Superior Court's Ruling

Mabus appealed the trial court's decision, arguing that the breath test results were inadmissible because they failed to comply with national and international standards of reporting measurements. He contended that the absence of uncertainty and confidence intervals violated the Frye standard for the admissibility of scientific evidence.

The Superior Court, in its review, affirmed the trial court's decision. The court noted that breathalyzer tests to determine alcohol concentration are not novel science and are generally accepted within the relevant scientific community. The court also highlighted that the Pennsylvania legislature has codified the use of breathalyzer tests in DUI cases, and the Intoxilyzer 9000 used in Mabus's case is an approved device according to the Department of Health and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration guidelines.

The court concluded that the lack of uncertainty and confidence intervals in the breath test results goes to the weight of the evidence rather than its admissibility. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the breath test results.

Implications of the Ruling

The ruling in the case of Randy Dale Mabus raises important questions about the intersection of legal standards and scientific principles in the courtroom. While the court affirmed the admissibility of the breath test results based on legislative standards and general acceptance in the scientific community, the case highlights the ongoing debate about the role of scientific rigor and transparency in legal evidence.

The decision underscores the need for a careful balance between legal procedures and scientific methodologies, especially in cases where scientific evidence plays a crucial role in determining the outcome. As technology and scientific understanding evolve, the legal system must continuously reassess its standards for the admissibility of scientific evidence to ensure that justice is served with both fairness and accuracy.

breathalyzer test