First of 3 Parts
For five years, blood alcohol test results were misinterpreted in the Warren County court system.
Driving under the influence charges were based on serum blood test results that gave higher results than whole blood tests.
Subsequently, some defendants who were not legally drunk were charged with DUI and some who were over the limit were convicted of more serious offenses than they committed.
Using a number from a serum test instead of the legally acceptable whole blood test is an easy mistake to make.
“It is something that would reveal itself in a very, very careful examination of the medical records,” Warren County Chief Public Defender John Parroccini said of the need to apply a conversion factor to the serum result.
“It is my understanding that Warren General Hospital does not make it easy to find the distinction and without the notice that they provided to the district attorney in 2008, there would be no reason to think that anything had changed,” he said.
Warren General is certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health “to determine blood alcohol content under the Clinical Laboratory Act.” On the list of certified labs, Warren General is followed by an S in parentheses meaning the hospital tests serum blood.
When blood is drawn and tested in possible DUI cases at Warren General, the results are provided to law enforcement. But the paperwork is not created at the hospital.
“The forms are generated through the electronic health records,” Holli Wolfe, director of patient and public relations for Warren General, said. Those documents are then “picked up in medical records by the officer in the case.”
The hospital did send a letter to then District Attorney Ross McKeirnan about the change. Warren County Chief Clerk Pam Matve provided a copy of the letter that “was received by the district attorney.”
“In a perfect world, once Ross got the notice, he should have mailed it to all defense counsel and made a point to highlight it since he had a duty to provide exculpatory evidence to the defense in all such cases,” Parroccini said. “In the same way if he knows of a witness who can offer exculpatory testimony, he has to provide that info to the defendant.”
Exculpatory evidence is favorable to the defendant.