Claims about DUI test don’t win over jury
BARRE — An East Calais man was convicted Tuesday of drunken driving for the fifth time, but it was how the man’s alcohol-laced breath was tested that was ultimately on trial.
Brian Grenier, 52, was found guilty of driving under the influence for a third or subsequent time, a felony, by a jury of nine women and three men in Washington County criminal court in Barre after three hours of deliberation. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and will have to wait until a pre-sentence investigation is completed before he learns his fate.
The incident occurred in May 2010, when Grenier was pulled over for a broken headlight. The evidence against him was substantial, as authorities said he smelled of alcohol, admitted to drinking before getting behind the wheel, told the Washington County sheriff’s deputy who arrested him that “I’m screwed” and tried to negotiate his way out of the charge after his arrest.
Seemingly the most damning evidence was a breath test administered at the Sheriff’s Department in Montpelier. According to the DataMaster DMT machine that analyzes a potential drunken driver’s breath, Grenier had a blood alcohol content of 0.172 percent two hours after he was pulled over, well over the legal limit to drive of 0.08.
It was that breath test and the machine that conducted it that Grenier’s attorney, David Sleigh, focused his defense on. In the process of defending this case, Sleigh said, he discovered that the DataMaster DMTs that law enforcement agencies around the state were using were having technical issues, were not being properly maintained and were giving out faulty data.
The man accused of wrongfully maintaining the machines, former technician Steven Harnois, was investigated by the state and cleared of any malfeasance. Sleigh also showed evidence that the Department of Health had numerous issues with trying to get the machines to function properly and had to send the first 10 machines the state ordered back because they were malfunctioning.
The faulty machinery and potential for wrongful conviction caught the attention of the Legislature, and the laboratory that oversees the machines for the state was moved in March 2012 from the Department of Health to the Department of Public Safety to make the program more transparent and allow data the program collected to be more carefully scrutinized.
Grenier was pulled over during the time period when the program was still in “total disarray,” according to Sleigh.
“Scientific evidence has credibility, productivity and persuasive value when it’s scientific. When you have an agency that has a protocol and written procedures that are adhered to. That isn’t the case here,” he said during his closing statement.
In the end, the jury sided with Deputy State’s Attorney Greg Nagurney, who argued that there was no evidence the Sheriff’s Department machine was not working properly when Grenier’s breath test was administered.
“We do know how (Grenier) conducted himself on the night of the arrest,” Nagurney said. “Whatever you think that the laboratory did, I submit to you that the best evidence in this case comes from the defendant himself and the statements on the night of his arrest. ... Who sits in the back of a police car in handcuffs and asks to negotiate?”
Grenier has previous convictions for driving under the influence in 1979, 1986, 1996 and 2005.
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