As state crime lab backlogs increase, it takes longer and longer for blood drawn in connection with impaired driving cases to be tested.
In some of these cases, the State may opt to proceed to trial without the results. And sometimes defendants are eager to plead guilty before such blood is tested.
A defendant who believes that her alcohol concentration was 0.15 or more may determine that even without the blood test results, there is an abundance of evidence to establish her guilt. And, if by pleading guilty, the defendant can avoid having the blood tested, then she also can avoid the requirement that she have ignition interlock installed on all of her vehicles for a year following the restoration of her driver’s license.
A few questions arise in the context of such pleas.
May a judge accept such a plea knowing that the blood has not yet been tested?
G.S. 20-139.1(e2) (discussed here) requires that an implied consent case in district court “be continued until the analyst can be present.” For this requirement to apply, however, the State must seek a continuance. Moreover, G.S. 20-139.1(e2) primarily addresses circumstances in which a chemical analyst’s affidavit may be admitted into evidence under G.S. 20-139.1(e1). The continuance requirement thus applies in circumstances in which the analysis already has been performed. The statute does not require continuance so that an analysis may be performed.
May a district attorney agree not to seek a continuance and call such a case for arraignment and trial in order for the defendant to plead guilty?
An alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more is an aggravating factor in an impaired driving case sentenced under G.S. 20-179. The prosecutor is required to present all aggravating factors of which he is aware and also is required “[i]n every instance in which a valid chemical analysis is made of the defendant” to “present evidence of the resulting alcohol concentration.” G.S. 20-179(a)(2). Here, however, no chemical analysis has yet been performed. Thus, these statutory requirements are not implicated.
How does a district attorney prevent the blood from being tested in such cases?
The district attorney submits a “Case Disposition Notice” notifying the state crime lab that the case has been disposed of and that the analysis does not need to be completed.
What if the blood is tested after the defendant’s guilty plea?
This might occur if the prosecutor doesn’t submit a notification that the analysis does not need to be performed or if the blood is tested before the request is received.
In such circumstances, a defendant who pleads guilty to avoid ignition interlock may not receive the benefit she expected. Upon completing its analysis, the state crime lab will submit the chemical analyst’s affidavit directly to DMV as well as to the clerk and the district attorney. If the affidavit reflects an alcohol concentration of 0.15 or more, DMV will impose ignition interlock pursuant to G.S. 20-17.8, which requires that “the results of a chemical analysis, as shown by an affidavit or affidavits executed pursuant to G.S. 20-16.2(c1)” be used by DMV to determine a person’s alcohol concentration.