This week, our criminal lawyers examine the case of a Marylander who previously plead guilty to a DUI and completed their sentence... only to find out years later that their blood sample was contaminated.
The Question: Can I overturn my DUI conviction if my blood sample was contaminated?
2018 DUI, Just received a letter about contaminated blood sample.
I received a DUI in March of 2018. I blew at the stop, but then refused at the station so they drew my blood. I plead guilty and have since completed all the requirements and gotten my license back and am finally finished with the interlock. I just received a letter in the mail on November 27, from the prosecuting attorney and it says:
In order to discharge my duties under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 10 L. Ed. 2d 215, 83 S. Ct. 1194 (1963), I am writing to advise you that environmental contamination was present in one room of the Washington State Patrol Toxicology Laboratory between March of 2018, and June 19 2019. "Environmental contamination" means that the methamphetamine level found in various areas exceeded the level specified in WAC 246-205-542. The environmental contamination possibly contaminated some blood samples during the extraction process.
This investigation came to my attention on August 7, 2020. Information that at least one reported test was performed upon your sample performed between March 1, 2018 [and] June 19, 2019 by a scientist with a desk located in Seattle Crime Lab office room 307.
The County Prosecuting Attorney's office cannot advise you regarding what actions you may wish to take based upon the above information. You should be aware, however, that various statutes limit the length of time in which a personal restraint petition or other collateral attack may be filed. See RCW 10.73.090; RCW 10.73.100(1). If you currently have an attorney, you should promptly share this letter with him or her.
I have a few questions; what exactly does this mean? Could an attorney possibly get my conviction changed? And the lawyer that I had for my DUI was not a very good lawyer, should I get a new lawyer or go back to him? And also would he charge me more for investigating this or is it still part of the case that I already paid him for? I have been laid off because of Covid, so I am just looking at options.
The Answer: You might be able to overturn the conviction, but there's a lot of questions that only a lawyer could answer to evaluate your chances.
You've got a bunch of questions, but first thing's first: What exactly does the letter say?
In plain English, your letter basically says that:
The old prosecuting attorney found out that there was contamination in the lab that did your DUI blood work, at the time your sample was there.
There's a chance the sample may have been contaminated.
Because of that contamination, your previous case may be impacted, but time might be limited to do anything, so talk to a lawyer.
As to whether you could get your conviction overturned based on this new evidence, the answer is a strong "maybe."
That's why the opposing party advised you to hand off the letter to your attorney: So they can evaluate your case and see for sure if it's something worth moving forward on.
If the conviction were based on fraud or some sort of illegality, then it's possible to try to overturn the conviction. It might be worth trying, since you can't expunge a guilty verdict on a DUI charge in Maryland.
The fact that you plead guilty wouldn't necessarily matter if it were, indeed, possible to overturn the conviction. However, you'd have to prove that the contamination of the evidence of your driving while intoxicated was, in fact, the result of fraud or something illegal in order to overturn your DUI.
And, yes, you'd have to pay your lawyer (or a new one!) for the new matter. The previous retainer is closed some two years now, it sounds like, and the new situation would not be an "extension" on the old one.
Our automatic disclaimer: We're lawyers, but not necessarily your lawyer, and do not represent the individual who asked this question. We're providing this information for general educational purposes based on the publicly available information provided by the anonymous Internet user. Any number of details may change how this individual's attorney may pursue this legal situation, differently from how we suppose above. If you have a similar question, then you should consult with a lawyer about your specific situation to get a "real" response!