The Minnesota DWI Case Of The Week is Palke v. Commissioner of Public Safety (Decided January 27, 2020, Minnesota Court of Appeals, Unpublished) which stands for the proposition that the Courts are not going to allow any expert to impugn the general reliability of a Data Master breath test with evidence of margin of error, uncertainty of measurement or machine bias.
In Palke, the Petitioner was arrested for DWI and tested at 16% breath alcohol concentration level. Mr. Palke filed a challenge to the license revocation and sought to introduce expert testimony concerning the reliability and accuracy of his breath test results.
The Commissioner of Public Safety moved to exclude the expert testimony and the District Court granted the motion. On Appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court, noting:
"In May 2018, Palke notified the commissioner that he intended to offer the testimony of a “BCA Breath Testing Expert” concerning the reliability and accuracy of his breath-test result in light of “the uncertainty of measurement values that apply to . . . breath test results, the metrological traceability of these test results, and the ultimate accuracy of the results.” *** "Thereafter Palke filed a memorandum of law ... arguing that the expert witness’s testimony would be relevant to the reliability of the DataMaster instrument and the “interpretation, accuracy, and probative value of this particular set of tests.”
The Minnesota Court of Appeals then explained its decision, stating:
"“[T]he results of a breath test” are, as a matter of law, “admissible in evidence without antecedent expert testimony that an infrared or other approved breath-testing instrument provides a trustworthy and reliable measure of the alcohol in the breath,” so long as the breath test was “performed by a person who has been fully trained in the use of an infrared or other approved breath-testing instrument . . . pursuant to training given or approved by the commissioner of public safety or the commissioner’s acting agent.” Minn. Stat. § 634.16 (2018). If the requirements of section 634.16 are satisfied, the results of a breath test “are admissible into evidence without antecedent expert testimony establishing that the instrument provides a trustworthy and reliable measure of alcohol concentration.” In re Source Code Evidentiary Hearings in Implied Consent Matters, 816 N.W.2d 525, 528 n.3 (Minn. 2012); State v. Norgaard, 899 N.W.2d 205, 207-08 (Minn. App. 2017). In addition, if the requirements of section 634.16 are satisfied, the results of a breath test are “presumed trustworthy and reliable.” In re Commissioner of Pub. Safety, 735 N.W.2d 706, 711 (Minn. 2007). “But section 634.16’s presumption of reliability may be challenged in a proceeding under section 169A.53, subdivision 3(b)(10), which specifically permits a driver to challenge the reliability and accuracy of his or her test results.” Id.; see also State v. Underdahl, 767 N.W.2d 677, 685 n.4 (Minn. 2009)."
"If a party seeks to introduce expert evidence at an implied-consent hearing, the district court may admit the evidence if the expert’s specialized knowledge will help the factfinder “understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.” Minn. R. Evid. 702; see also Hayes, 773 N.W.2d at 136. “The basic consideration in admitting expert testimony under Rule 702 is the helpfulness test—that is, whether the testimony will assist the [factfinder] in resolving factual questions presented.” State v. Grecinger, 569 N.W.2d 189, 195 (Minn. 1997)."
"Palke acknowledges that the district court excluded his proffered expert evidence on the ground that it would not be helpful to the factfinder. Palke contends, however, that “the expert testimony would have been helpful to the district court judge, as the testimony would have explained the difference between bias, uncertainty of measurement, and margin of error,” which Palke asserts are “distinct and separate issues,” and that “the expert testimony would show how bias specifically affected the test results at the .16 level.”
"In response, the commissioner argues primarily that Palke’s expert evidence is “insufficient as a matter of law,” and thus irrelevant, on the ground that the commissioner “is not required to prove an alcohol concentration within some alleged margin of potential error.” The commissioner also argues that the district court correctly analyzed the helpfulness of Palke’s expert evidence on the ground that Palke’s proffer related merely to “the general concept of bias and how it could or might affect a test result” but did not include “anything specific to this test or this instrument.”
"The district court’s ruling on the admissibility of Palke’s expert evidence appropriately considered the general nature of Palke’s proffer. The district court reasoned that Palke had “failed to proffer sufficient information regarding the expert testimony beyond his allegation that the administration of [his] test was biased and that there is a chance [he] was below the legal threshold of 0.16.” The district court further reasoned that “[t]he limited information proffered . . . would not be helpful to the court."
"The district court’s reasoning is supported by the record. Palke’s proffer was general in nature and somewhat speculative about the testimony that the expert witness would give. There is no indication that the expert testimony would have helped the district court resolve the disputed factual issues in this particular case, such as whether Palke’s test results “were . . . accurately evaluated,” see Minn. Stat. § 169A.53, subd. 3(b)(10), or whether Palke’s alcohol concentration actually was 0.16 or more, see Minn. Stat. § 169A.52, subd. 4(a), 4(a)(1). Palke argues on appeal that the expert witness would have testified about the probability that his “true alcohol concentration” was less than 0.16, but he does not state that probability, and there is no such information in any version of the proffer that he presented to the district court."
Moral Of The Story: When it comes to horseshoes, hand grenades and license revocations, close is good enough.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for a Minnesota DWI, or are facing a DWI forfeiture of your motor vehicle, feel free to contact Minnesota DWI Attorney, F. T. Sessoms at (612) 344-1505 for answers to all of your Minnesota DWI questions.