In a recent Kern County case, oral swab evidence was used to convict a man of driving under the influence. This case has been closely observed by law enforcement and DUI attorneys nationwide, especially by those who believe that the ruling may popularize the technology.
Oral swabs are not expected to replace blood tests, which deliver clearer results about the exact concentration of legal and illegal substances in a suspect’s blood.
Additionally, oral swabs do not test for the presence of alcohol, or whether a driver is impaired.
With our current technology, they are the only way that law enforcement can quickly test for the presence of several different controlled substances (drugs) in a driver’s system, which is useful since drug levels can drop as they are metabolized by the body.
Between 2013 and 2014, police departments in Fullerton, Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Sacramento tested oral swabs, in collaboration with the California Office of Traffic Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
According to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Michael Yraceburn, Kern County was chosen as a pilot area for the swab tests due to decidedly “sordid reasons.”
Kern has the most drunk drivers, and it has a methamphetamine problem, according to Yraceburn. They have a high likelihood of catching people driving under the influence of different substances, he said.
He said that a lot of people have been watching their case; that’s his understanding.
The defendant in the case, J. Salas of Bakersfield, was arrested at the scene of an accident on Oct. 12, 2013, that killed a 60-year-old man and seriously injured his 54-year-old wife.
Salas was subjected to a breathalyzer at the scene, a second breath test, a blood test and an oral swab. The oral swab found methamphetamine in his blood.
Roughly three hours later, the blood and breath tests indicated that he had a blood alcohol concentration of .03 percent. The blood test revealed that he had methamphetamine and marijuana in his system.
On Dec. 17, Salas, 22, was found guilty of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, with ordinary negligence, and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs causing bodily injury.
Salas’ defense attorney said that he can see how oral swabs would be a useful tool, but it’s really a “probable cause” tool. It only indicates the presence of a substance, it doesn’t indicate the level of intoxication, he said.
Future of Oral Swabs in DUI Cases
While the future of oral swabs is uncertain, advocates believe that it is bright. In Colorado, where marijuana was legalized in 2012, state troopers are testing oral swabs to see how effective they are.
Advocates believe their ease and affordability could make them a hit there as authorities contend with the state’s pot boom.
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