Challenging Blood-Alcohol and Sobriety Tests in DWI Cases

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Jim Leyritz played 11 major league seasons, most of them for the New York Yankees. He may be best remembered in the world of baseball as a World Series hero for his dramatic 1996 home run to tie Game 4, which the Yankees went on to win in extra innings. More recently, however, he made headlines for his involvement in a fatal traffic crash. At about 3 a.m. on December 28, 2007, Leyritz collided with a vehicle driven by Fredia Ann Veitch after he had been out celebrating his birthday. Veitch, a mother of two, was killed in the crash.

The Witnesses and Trial Arguments

Although two witnesses originally testified that Veitch had the green light at the intersection of the collision, under cross-examination, both were less definitive about whether Leyritz's light was red or yellow.

Prosecutors said Leyritz was simply too drunk to react to the traffic light or avoid the accident. But defense expert witnesses raised the issue that Veitch's lights on her Mitsubishi may not have been on and also testified that Leyritz did not appear to be speeding.

A blood sample taken three hours after the crash showed Leyritz had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) level of .14. A state expert testified that Leyritz's BAC could have been as high as .19 at the time of the accident and a state toxicologist added that Leyritz had consumed the equivalent of about a dozen shots of liquor.

The defense experts countered by questioning the reliability of the blood tests. The experts suggested that Leyritz may have suffered a slight concussion, causing his body to absorb alcohol more slowly. Thus, his BAC may have actually been lower than the legal limit of .08 percent at the time the crash occurred.

Veitch had also been out at the bars after work and trial testimony indicated she had a BAC of twice the legal limit. The witnesses' statements conflicted as to whether Leyritz or Veitch had run a red light. Court documents stated that Veitch was not wearing her seat belt when she was thrown from her vehicle.

Jury Splits on the Drunk Driving Charges

Apparently, the jury believed the testimony of the witnesses who said that Leyritz had not run a red light when the accident occurred: the jury acquitted Leyritz of DUI manslaughter. But the jury apparently did not believe that Leyritz's BAC was under the legal limit of .08 percent when the accident occurred as it convicted him of driving under the influence.

A DUI manslaughter conviction in Florida carries up to a 15-year prison term; while the DUI conviction has a penalty of up to six months in jail. The judge sentenced Leyritz to one year of probation and fined him $500.

Challenging DWI Charges

The Leyritz case underscores the importance of holding the prosecution to the required standard of proof. Often, drivers may feel as though fighting a drunk driving charge (driving while intoxicated, or DWI, in New York) is pointless when the police have taken a blood sample that shows a BAC over the legal limit. But an experienced DWI defense attorney can carefully examine:

  • Every event leading up to the blood test, including whether the officer had reason to pull over the driver or the traffic stop was otherwise valid;
  • Whether the field sobriety tests such as the one-leg stand, walk-and-turn and horizontal-gaze-nystagmus were accurately administered; and
  • The accuracy of the blood or Breathalyzer results themselves, including the timing and correct administration of the tests as well as the required chain of custody leading up to test analysis.

The penalties for a DWI conviction in New York are serious, and can include the loss of driving privileges, fines, mandatory installation of an ignition interlock device and even jail time. Conviction for multiple offenses, even for the lesser offense of driving while ability impaired (DWAI), can also result in harsher penalties.

Those who have been arrested for or charged with DWI should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to protect their rights and work to save their driving privileges.