Chromatography – It’s Really Important

Do you know what a chromatograph is? It is a machine that separates the stuff that is in your blood. The stuff that the government is interested in after a DUI arrest where your blood was drawn is ethanol (ETOH). Ethanol is a volatile and colorless liquid that will mix in your blood if you consume an alcoholic drink.

Why is all this important? If you were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Denver, you may have elected a blood test. If you took a blood test, you will likely receive your blood alcohol content (BAC) in the mail from the DMV, or from the district attorney when you go to court. If unchallenged, that BAC number could determine whether or not your driver’s license is taken away and you are convicted of DUI in court.

Most lawyers will accept the BAC that the government reports without knowing how the state’s forensic lab actually got to that number. We don’t do that. We invest thousands of dollars per year toward advanced forensic training for our defense attorneys. All of our defense attorneys have received training from instructors of the American Chemical Society. Principal attorney Jay Tiftickjian has graduated from the hands-on Forensic Chromatography Course conducted at Axiom Analytical Laboratories in Chicago, Illinois. At this course, Attorney Tiftickjian was able to run and repair chromatographs and analyze the data that make up chromatograms in DUI blood testing cases. Defense attorney Katherine Kennedy of Tiftickjian Law Firm will be traveling to Chicago in September to receive this same advanced training.

Chromatography is a separation science. Specific to DUI blood testing, a lab technician will mix a suspect’s blood sample with a known standard to determine whether ethanol is present, and if so how much. This prepared solution is injected into the chromatograph and heated. Since ethanol is volatile, it will vaporize when heated. When in its vapor phase, it separates from other substances that are in your blood.

Once in the vapor phase, the gas will be pushed through a small column in the chromatograph. The column will keep certain elements inside of it longer than others based on each substance’s “affinity” to remain in the column (staying in their stationary phase) as opposed to moving out of the column (the mobile phase). In simple terms, each element should come out of the column inside the chromatograph at a different time.  The retention time of each element is critical in determining what element is present, such as ethanol. Finally, the chromatogram will also measure how much of the substance is present.

The data that is generated in the chromatograph is contained to a chromatogram. In order to properly analyze whether there are legitimate challenges to the blood testing process and a DUI case, an attorney must be able to read the chromatograms that are generated during this process. The chromatograms that are generated are very complicated to read, and without proper training in forensic chromatography, even the smartest lawyer will not know how to evaluate them.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence in Denver, make sure the attorney you hire has the training and experience necessary to challenge the government’s blood test. If your DUI attorney cannot read a chromatogram, here she will not be able to challenge your blood test result in court.

ACS Forensic Chromatography

Jay Tiftickjian in the lab

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