A Day Trip To Hell ...

Waiting for a verdict in a criminal case is the closest I expect to get to Hell. That is not because I hope to ascend to Heaven at death. I simply don't believe in an afterlife. So today I suffer for sins committed in the past. But whose sins?

My client is accused of manslaughter as to her own children. She was driving a car on July 4, 2007. Her car collided head on with the another vehicle. Two of her three children were killed; she and another child were horribly injured. The passengers in the other vehicle suffered less serious injuries.

Almost two hours after the crash, and after intravenous lines, transfusions, the insertion of a chest tube, and after my client's body had responded well and fully to trauma, the hospital sent her blood for testing. She was en route to surgery for a lacerated liver. The anesthesiologist needed to know what he was treating. Her blood serum tested for positive for the presence of alcohol. The hospital used a machine that is non-specific for ehtanol, what we drink when we sedate ourselves.

After her blood sample was destroyed, and weeks after the tests were taken, police got a subpoena for her blood tests results. A toxicologist used those results to calculate that her blood alcohol level was .12. That is well above the legal limit of .08. Hence, she was charged with manslaughter and a slew of other charges revolving around the claim that she was intoxicated when she drove. She was not charged with driving under the influence; the evidence was infirm for that purpose.

The case turns on a battle of experts. The blood serum test is an enzyme based test involving oxidation of an enzyme known as alcohol dehydrogenase, produced in the liver. The state says the test is reliable, while acknowledging that lacate and other compounds produced by a body in trauma could contribute to a false positive. Our expert, a medical examiner from New York City, says the numbers aren't reliable given the condition of the client at the time the blood was drawn. Both experts agree that the preferred method of testing for blood alcohol content is gas chromatography as it discriminates between ethanol alcohol and related compounds. The hospital possessed no such machine.

Today, the jury wants to hear a read back of these two experts' testimony. We will sit for hours listening. It will be a special form of Hell for me. I find the trial of a case fascinating. But watching another try a case is like watching ice melt on a cool day. I will now have to watch myself. I am sure to find fault with each nonfluency and pause.

But the hottest coals in this inferno come of not knowing what becomes of the woman seated to my right. She is a beautiful young mother much loved by her surviving daughter. That the state would seek to imprison my client, as it seeks to do in this case, is beyond my comprehension. The state's decision to bring this case on blood evidence of such questionable pedigree strikes me as itself close to a criminal act.

So today we sit, and I, a man of little faith, come as close as I ever do to prayer.


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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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