Houston Court Affirms DWI Conviction Despite Problems with Initial Toxicology Report

December 14th, 2018 by Tad Nelson in DWI

In most DWI and drunk driving cases, a critical piece of evidence is the toxicology report that confirms the defendant’s blood-alcohol concentration at or near the time of arrest. As you probably already know, in Texas (and every other state), a person is considered legally intoxicated if they have a BAC of at least 0.08 percent. But this presumes the individuals who conducted the testing and prepared the report did so in an ethical and professional manner.

Judge Keeps Circumstances of Toxicologist’s Firing from DWI Jury

A recent decision by the Texas First District Court of Appeals here in Houston, Rodriguez v. State, addressed a situation where that might not have been the case. This particular DWI case began when a deputy from the Harris County sheriff’s office was driving home one night. The deputy noticed a vehicle in front of him–driven by the defendant–was “not staying within one lane and nearly struck another vehicle.”

The deputy decided to follow the defendant and eventually initiated a traffic stop. Based on his interactions, the deputy determined the defendant might be intoxicated. The deputy then called for a backup unit, which performed field sobriety tests. The defendant then consented to a blood test.

According to the official toxicology report presented at the defendant’s trial, the defendant’s BAC was 0.23, nearly three times the legal limit. The defense, however, attempted to introduce evidence regarding a prior toxicology report, which was reviewed by an individual who was later fired from her position with the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences (HCIFS). It turned out the original reviewer “had misrepresented her educational background.” Prosecutors attempted to charge the reviewer with criminal aggravated perjury, but a grand jury declined to issue an indictment.

In any event, the toxicology report for this case was then reviewed by another individual at HCIFS, who testified as an expert witness at trial. The trial judge did not allow the defense to inform the jury as to the controversy surrounding the initial reviewer. Instead, the jury was simply told the District Attorney’s office asked HCIFS “to conduct additional review since the original expert reviewer was unavailable for testimony.”

The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of a Class A misdemeanor DWI. The trial court sentenced the defendant to one year of community supervision (probation) and a $1,000 fine. On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge erred in not allowing the jury to hear the full story behind the original toxicology reviewer. The First District disagreed. It noted the initial reviewer only had “minimal involvement with the case,” and that any evidence regarding the reasons for her dismissal from the HCIFS had “limited probative value” in the defendant’s DWI trial. The appeals court also rejected the defense’s claim the trial judge exhibited “judicial bias” by ruling for the prosecution on this issue.

Speak with a Houston Drunk Driving Defense Lawyer Today

Even in a “routine” DWI case, it is important to carefully scrutinize all of the evidence introduced by the prosecution. An experienced Houston or Galveston DWI defense lawyer can help ensure no improper or illegally obtained evidence is used against you. If you have been arrested for drunk driving and need immediate assistance, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today.

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