Friday, May 10, 2013

Something's rotten up in Conroe

Texas DPS Standard Operating Guidelines for Technical Supervisors 

1.1 An official inspection by a Technical Supervisor can only be conducted at the evidential testing location. Each part of the inspection shall occur at the testing location and includes not only the instrument, but the associated equipment and the testing environment as a whole. 
     1.1.1 The capability of the instrument to detect and subtract the effect of acetone shall be tested. 
1.2 A complete inspection (1.1) shall be performed by a Technical Supervisor each time an instrument is placed into or returned to service at a testing location.

According to Chapter 37 of the Texas Administrative Code, for a breath test result to be admissible it must be conducted per the rules set out by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Should these procedures not be followed, the results of breath tests can be thrown out and machines can be taken out of service.

The DPS rules state that anytime a technical supervisor inspects a breath test machine, he or she must conduct a test to determine whether the machine is capable of detecting acetone. The rules state further that an inspection must be conducted every time a breath test machine is placed into service.

Well, up in Montgomery County, someone forgot to read the rules. According to a memo sent out to the local defense bar by the District Attorney's Office, acetone checks were not performed on breath test machines that were taken out of service and moved to another location.

Here is the text of Warren Diepraam's memo regarding the failure of technical supervisors to follow proper protocols:
It has recently been brought to our attention that the Intoxilyzer instruments in Montgomery County did not receive acetone checks when the devices were taken out of service and transferred to another location. This appears to be contrary to DPS guidelines. DPS informs us that because all instruments received acetone checks when placed back into service at the new location and also received the standard acetone checks each month, they do not believe the testing has been affected. However, DPS is conducting an analysis to determine whether or not any test may have been affected. 
At this time, we have no reason to suspect that the tests in any cases were affected. However, should DPS find any irregularities, we will immediately contact you. Should you have any cases that you feel were affected by this SOP issue, please contact the relevant Bureau Chief or the First Assistant.
Well of course the DPS doesn't feel that any tests were affected by the failure of their technical supervisors to follow their own rules. The cover is that acetone tests were run during routine inspections and no problems were indicated.

But that's not the issue here. The issue is whether or not the results of those tests are admissible due to the state's failure to conduct the proper tests when called for in the DPS operating guidelines.

Just remember that the state puts forward the results of breath tests as scientific evidence. As such these tests must be conducted in a certain manner and if they aren't, the results are compromised and not admissible. In order to talk about a test score, the state must present evidence that the machine was in service and functioning properly as well as evidence that the breath test was conducted according to the DPS rules.

If the machines weren't properly tested when they were taken out of service then they should never have been considered back in service after they were transferred to new locations. If that's the case then no breath test score from any of the machines in question should be admissible until the proper procedures are followed for removing a machine from service and transferring it to another location.

The Montgomery County District Attorney's Office and the DPS have an obligation to provide the local defense bars with the serial numbers and locations of each machine that was compromised by the failure to follow the SOG's. It should not be up to prosecutors or the DPS to determine whether tests were affected or not - they have an inherent conflict of interest.

The DA doesn't want to have to dismiss cases and agree to post-conviction writs in the cases in question. The DPS doesn't want to open up a can of worms regarding its breath testing program. Allowing them to determine whether all is well or not is akin to letting the fox guard the henhouse.

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