Portable Breath Test Device (PBT) Results Should Not Have Been Admitted, Driving While Intoxicated Conviction Reversed
The Second Department reversed defendant’s driving while intoxicated (DWI) conviction because the results of the portable breath test device (PBT) were allowed in evidence in the People’s direct case:
Generally, the result of a PBT, such as an Alco-sensor, “is not admissible to establish intoxication, as its reliability for this purpose is not generally accepted in the scientific community” … . Contrary to the trial court’s determination, isolated remarks during defense counsel’s opening statement did not open the door for the People to introduce incriminating testimony about the PBT result as part of their case-in-chief, particularly in the absence of appropriate limiting instructions … . We note that the opening remarks at issue, regarding the officer discarding the PBT “cap,” were at least partly offered in support of the defense theory that the defendant was not aware that he was the subject of a lawful arrest on the night in question, which theory was offered to undermine the charges of assault in the second degree and resisting arrest. Further, we find that the People adequately responded to this remark by eliciting the officer’s testimony that he disposed of the plastic cap because it was unsanitary, and this was standard procedure. Nonetheless, the People elicited testimony that, according to the PBT, the defendant’s BAC was .128%, significantly higher than the legal limit of .08%, before defense counsel had an opportunity to raise this issue during cross-examination … . Under these circumstances, it cannot be said that the defendant opened the door for the People to adduce evidence of an insufficiently reliable PBT result in order to prove the defendant’s intoxication … .
Thereafter, the trial court did not provide the jury with any limiting instructions regarding the PBT result …, but instead directed the jury to consider the PBT result as direct proof of the defendant’s intoxication. The court told the jury that the PBT was a “generally accepted instrument in determining blood alcohol content,” and that no scientific expert was necessary. This was error … . Under the circumstances, including the lack of evidence of admissible field sobriety tests, we find that this error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. People v Krut, 2015 NY Slip Op 08439, 2nd Dept 11-18-15