In the state of Texas it is illegal to operate a vehicle in a public place while under the influence of alcohol. Whether a person is under the influence of alcohol can be determined a couple of different ways, and both result in the same penalty if convicted in the end. But the most popular method used to get convictions, breathalyzer tests, is increasingly coming under scrutiny.
Setting that issue aside for a moment, the police and prosecution are not required to use a breathalyzer or blood alcohol content test to convict one of DWI. In fact, a case could be tried in front of a jury by simple testimony of a police officer and video evidence. Few DWI cases are tried in this manner because it is easier to present evidence based on “scientific tests” of blood alcohol content than through police testimony.
Reliability Questioned on Several Fronts
As police departments and prosecutor’s offices increasingly rely on breathalyzer tests to prove guilt in a DWI case, those methods are being scrutinized again and again. One of the should-be-obvious issues is that breath is being used to to measure the alcohol content in a person’s blood. Unless you take time to say it out and think about it, you might just take it for granted that the breathalyzer is accurate.
Of course, accuracy per se is not the issue. It is the fact that breathalyzers in many cases can not be precisely accurate when detecting the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood content. For example, in Texas a person is deemed intoxicated and driving while intoxicated if his blood alcohol content is .08 or more. Well that is a very precise measurement that can be the difference between jail time and freedom. That is a big deal.
The biggest problem with the breathalyzer as a test is how it is portrayed to the public who end up sitting on juries. The fact is, as with all tests, every test that is administered has a probability of not being accurate. When the standard of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt, using a test that can often be inaccurate causes problems with the entire criminal justice system.
These concerns have taken center stage in a legal battle in Massachusetts. There, current and ex-defendants alike have joined a lawsuit challenging the use of breathalyzers in DWI cases. As a result of that lawsuit, the entire affected district has put a halt on trying DWI cases until it is resolved. This alone underscores the uncertainty that is involved when breathalyzers alone are used in a criminal case.
Understanding and Defending Your Rights
This discussion should be a lesson for anyone facing DWI charges that your case is not over just because it has begun. Everyone charged with a DWI is entitled to a quality defense. In addition, you have the right to make the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are facing a DWI, contact us. At The Wilder DWI Defense Firm we will aggressively defend your case from day one.
(photo courtesy of Matt Trostle)