As readers of this blog know, I’ve railed long and hard about the inaccuracy and unreliability of breath testing machines — and the unquestioning reverence in which they are held. Now consider this latest news story:
Holding Breath Tests Accountable
Houston, October 26. One night last December, a Houston man drove away from a downtown bar and had an accident. After taking a breath test, he joined 98,000 other Texans charged that year with driving while intoxicated.
The case’s outcome was far from routine, however.
In September, a judge threw out the charge after a defense lawyer raised questions about not only the scientific integrity of the machine that gauges sobriety, but about the state’s breath-alcohol testing program, too.
Those questions ? sparked by the discovery that Texas disregards the manufacturer’s guidelines for operating the machine ? potentially could affect thousands of cases throughout the state as authorities and defense lawyers debate the credibility of breath tests.
Attorney Troy McKinney argued in a Harris County court last month that the program lacks adequate quality controls for calibrating breath-test devices, which compute a DWI suspect’s breath-alcohol level….
McKinney became suspicious after looking at the Intoxilyzer 5000, the machine used throughout Texas in a DWI program overseen by the state Department of Public Safety. He said records indicated the machine in his client’s case was operated with its voltage meter registering a current outside that recommended by the manufacturer, CMI Inc. of Owensboro, Ky.
Questioned about the discrepancy in a hearing without the jury present, HPD breath test training chief Rick Viser, who also performs maintenance on the machines, testified that DPS guidelines on an acceptable voltage range for the Intoxilyzer differ from the manufacturer’s ? although he could not say exactly how.
Viser, who has a bachelor of science degree in biology from Prairie View A&M University, declined to speak with the Chronicle for this story. He took on more responsibilities in the HPD breath test program after the October 2003 ouster of Pauline Louie, who retired after being suspended as head of the crime lab’s toxicology division, which tests blood and urine for alcohol and drugs.
Do you really believe that massive failures to properly maintain, calibrate and administer breath tests are limited to Texas?