DUI Correction: First Cases

Four people currently in the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program in Warren County had their DUI-related offenses dismissed in court Friday morning by President Judge Maureen Skerda.

Greene asked Skerda to change all of the blood alcohol content (BAC) related offenses for six defendants to “nolle prossed,” or not prosecuted. All six were at the low end of the DUI?range and after the application of a conversion, were not legally intoxicated at the times of their charges. In two of the cases, the defendants had entered guilty pleas, so Skerda continued those until Aug. 5, giving the defendants the opportunity to consult with legal counsel and withdraw the guilty pleas.

The BAC charges for the four defendants were dismissed, but other summary charges, such as careless driving remained open.

The defendants having charges dropped are Lucillia Chamberlain, 32, Warren; Makia Haines, 24, Warren; Nicole Hauk, 33, Randolph, N.Y. and Billie Vandermark, 22, Warren.

Greene said Vandermark’s BAC was only .01 but Skerda noted that she was a minor at the time of her arrest and any level of alcohol present in a minor driver is illegal, so that summary charge stands.

At the conclusion of the hearing, Greene said, “I thank the court for its indulgence in this unfortunate matter.” Afterwards he added, “There is not an absolute right answer, but we are trying to do the right thing.”

A letter was sent from Warren General Hospital to the district attorney’s office in 2008 saying the hospital had changed blood alcohol testing equipment. The new equipment tested the alcohol content of blood serum – the liquid portion – whereas the old equipment tested whole blood.

Testing serum gives Blood Alcohol Content up to 30 percent higher than testing whole blood, according to Greene, and the necessary calculation was not performed on blood tests from the hospital over a five-year period from October 2008 to May 2014.

Copies of that letter are on file at both the hospital and Warren County courthouse.

Greene discovered the need for the conversion while observing a trial being prosecuted by the attorney general’s office.

In Pennsylvania, there are three levels of DUI offense: general impairment, .08 to .099; high rate of alcohol, .10 to .159; and highest rate of alcohol, .16 and above. Higher rates call for more serious penalties. Greene is now dividing the hospital’s BAC results by 1.35 to give a legally accurate whole-blood BAC figure, and this could affect those charged with high or highest BAC.

The August hearing will address this issue.

Those who were tested with breathalyzers, blood tests in other labs or refusing blood tests are not eligible for any relief.