Last December, a Houston man drove 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, says the Houston Chronicle. 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. Those questions – sparked by the discovery that Texas disregards the manufacturer’s guidelines for operating the machine – could affect thousands of cases throughout the state as authorities and defense lawyers debate the credibility of breath tests.
Attorney Troy McKinney argues that the program lacks adequate quality controls for calibrating breath-test devices, which compute a DWI suspect’s breath-alcohol level. A judge refused to allow the head of the Houston Police Department breath-testing training program to testify against McKinney’s client, and prosecutors dropped the charge. “Any time forensic science that is being widely used throughout Texas, and outside Texas, is suppressed, it is cause for concern,” said Houston police crime lab director Irma Rios. McKinney became suspicious after looking at the Intoxilyzer 5000, the machine used throughout Texas. 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.