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What Happens If the Police Mishandle My DWI Breathalyzer Test?

We all make mistakes. But not all mistakes are treated the same under the law. If you have one too many drunks and get behind the wheel, that mistake will likely lead to a DWI. But if the police make mistakes in the investigation of your case? Well, courts are more inclined to forgive those, even when it contributes to a defendant’s conviction.

Houston Court Denies Habeas Relief Despite Problems With Officer, Lab Analyst Testimony

For example, a state appeals court here in Houston recently denied relief to a woman convicted of DWI despite serious questions regarding the competency of the officer who arrested her and the Houston Police Department crime lab that analyzed her blood-alcohol test. Although the appeals court acknowledged the problems raised by the defendant, it ultimately concluded they probably did not affect the jury’s final verdict.

Here is briefly what happened. A Harris County sheriff’s deputy pulled the defendant over after observing her vehicle making “several unsafe lane changes without signaling that caused other drivers to brake suddenly.” During the stop, the deputy asked the defendant to get out of her car, during which time he said she “had poor balance and staggered.” The deputy questioned the defendant, and she voluntarily admitted she “had consumed three beers that day” and had an empty container of alcohol in her car.

A subsequent chemical test appeared to reveal the defendant had a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.193 percent, which was more than twice the legal limit in Texas of 0.08 percent.

At trial, the jury heard testimony from the deputy as well as an analyst from the HPD crime lab who reviewed the BAC test results. The deputy’s testimony was apparently problematic, even for the prosecution. As the Court of Appeals later explained in its opinion, the deputy admitted he failed to “preserve the in-car video of the incident, lost his notes from the night of the incident, and admitted that the police report ‘contains numerous mistakes.’” During closing arguments, the prosecutor went so far as to state the deputy is “probably not a very good officer,” but that the jury should still believe his testimony that the defendant was intoxicated, especially given she had a BAC of 0.193.

The jury convicted the defendant of a Class B misdemeanor. She did not appeal the verdict. But after the trial ended, new evidence emerged regarding the credibility of the lab technician who testified at trial. As it turned out, the crime lab had removed the technician two weeks prior to the defendant’s trial “because of her involvement with an erroneous lab report in another case,” according to court records. In that case, the technician certified a factually incorrect lab report that contained “the wrong suspect’s name.”

Based on this information, the defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. This is basically a request for a judicial finding that a person has been unlawfully imprisoned due to a violation of their constitutional rights. In this situation, the defendant argued the state failed to disclose the lab technician’s suspension, and had it done so, she could have used that information to cross-examine or possibly exclude the evidence of the BAC test results altogether.

But the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals denied relief. Affirming a trial judge’s earlier ruling, the appeals court said the arresting officer’s testimony–despite the problems noted above–was more than enough to convict the defendant of a Class B DWI. The BAC test would only have been “material” to the jury’s verdict had the defendant been convicted of a Class A misdemeanor, which requires proof of a BAC of 0.15 percent or higher.

Get Help from a Houston DWI Attorney Today

Nobody is perfect, not even police officers or lab technicians. Unfortunately, their mistakes may send you or someone you love to jail. This is why it is critical work with an experienced Houston DWI defense attorney. Call the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away, (281) 280-0100.