Questions surround breathalyzer tests

October 24, 2008 9:18:41 PM PDT
There are questions about thousands of breathalyzer tests taken in DWI cases all around the Houston area. The Texas Department of Public Safety says a contractor overseeing the tests may not have had the breathalyzers calibrated properly. That means there may be problems with several samples that were taken.

The Friendswood chief of police didn't get much warning. DPS officials walked into his station Thursday and confiscated an important piece of machinery.

"As you can see, the intoxilizer machine has been collected and is in route to Austin for recertification," said Friendswood PD Chief Robert Weiners.

State officials also took the chemical solutions used in the process as well as the printer used for intoxilizer results. The actions seem harsh, but is considered necessary happening in several area police departments.

The accuracy of breath test devices are in question at police departments in Clute, Friendswood, Galveston, League City, Pearland, Seabrook, South Houston and Webster. DPS officials estimate at least 2,600 DWI cases are in jeopardy.

You've seen area DWI task forces cracking down on suspected drunk drivers. The breath tests are used to determine the concentration of alcohol in a person's breath. However, the evidence gathered this year is now in question, the result of alleged actions of one contractor who is supposed to inspect each breath test instrument in person at least once a month.

A DPS investigation found the machines had not been examined and calibrations checked. The records say the DPS were allegedly falsified by the contractor.

South Houston Police Chief Herbert Gilbert told us, "My officers are still gonna do their job to the best of their ability."

Chief Gilbert estimates over 100 of his DIW cases are now in question. However, the Harris County district attorney's office says the cases aren't decided yet.

"We are working closely with DPS to determine which, if any, cases may have been tainted by flawed or unreliable evidence," said Donna Hawkins with the Harris County DA's office.

Meanwhile, the absence of breath test instruments will not mean an absence of enforcement.

"That intoxolizer in and of itself is not, you know, a standalone indicator that that person is driving while intoxicated," said Chief Wieners.

There is also dash cam video, police officer testimony and eyewitness accounts. All can be used in court. Also don't expect any leniency toward suspected drunk drivers. The cities where the test results are in question say they will work with other area agencies to perform breath tests.

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