Minnesota DWI GERD Case and The Rules Of Evidence

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A recent case decided by the Minnesota Court of Appeals dealt with a drunk driving defendant who attempted to use heartburn (or GERD) as a defense. In the case, appellant’s attorney argued that his client’s breathalyzer test could not be considered reliable because Murtha was in the midst of an acid reflux episode while the breath test was being administered.

As we’ve discussed here before, GERD (gastro esophageal reflux disease) is a serious condition that has been proven to impact the results of breathalyzer tests. The condition, which causes contents from a person’s stomach be regurgitated up the throat and into the mouth has been found to cause significantly higher BAC readings than are accurate. These readings are off because undigested alcohol or alcohol vapors from the stomach can be pushed up into the person’s mouth which interferes with the breathalyzer’s reading.

Appellant’s attorney called an expert witness to the stand to explain how GERD can lead to inaccurate breath test results due to regurgitation pushing alcohol into the defendant’s mouth. Appellant’s attorney then attempted to ask the expert witness about the reliability of appellant’s actual test, something the district court judge refused to allow given that the question called for speculation on the witness’ part without proper foundation.

After the explanation from appellant’s expert witness had concluded, appellant’s attorney sought to introduce evidence of his client’s GERD diagnosis by submitting appellant’s diagnosis from his doctor found in the medical records was technically hearsay.

Appellant then appealed his case where the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court judge’s ruling. The Court cited Minnesota Rule of Evidence 803, which explains that a patient’s statements to a doctor found in medical records can be admitted under a hearsay exception at trial. However, a doctor’s diagnosis contained in medical records cannot. The logic goes that the patient’s statement in the medical records would likely be accurate given that the patient has every reason to tell the truth to his or her doctor so that they are properly diagnosed and treated.

So does this mean there would be no way in Minnesota to have the GERD diagnosis introduced into evidence? Of course not, as the Court of Appeals clearly noted all Appellant’s attorney needed to do was bring the man’s doctor in to testify. Because appellant’s doctor failed to testify at trial the evidence concerning his GERD diagnosis was rightfully excluded from evidence. As a result, the decision to revoke appellant driving privileges was affirmed and his attempt to argue that acid reflux unfairly altered his test results was never fully explored.

To read the full opinion, click here.

Kans Law Firm is a Minneapolis, Minnesota criminal defense firm focusing on the representation of individuals charged with alcohol related criminal and driving offenses.

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Source: Minnesota DWI GERD Case and The Rules Of Evidence