The Biggest Problem with Portable Breath Testing Devices

January 24, 2013

By Collin County Criminal Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Breath Test Devices in General

In DWI prosecution and defense there are several occasions where a person may give an optional or sometimes mandatory breath specimen.  Obviously at the arrest, a person is given the opportunity to provide a breath specimen.  After the arrest either while on bond or if after conviction — people are often required to submit to testing to start their car or carry a device which tests them periodically.

Only one machine in Texas is currently used and admissible to show a blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  This is the Intoxylizer 5000 which is almost always located at the police station in a special room where DWI arrestees are taken and read statutory warnings.  Any other testing device used in Texas is currently not considered scientifically accurate enough to do anything other than indicate the mere presence of alcohol in one’s system — yet those devices still report a numerical reading.

Other testing devices come in forms such as interlock ignition device (deep lung device or “DLD” for short), portable breath test devices carried by police officers for quick field tests (“PBT”) and portable devices carried around by someone on bond or probation and attached through a smart-phone like connection which requires breath samples throughout the day and reports the results to a probation officer.

Portable Breath Test Devices

Today’s discussion isn’t about the intoxylizer machine but about the other three devices which for today’s purposes I’ll just refer to as PBT technology.  This is because the ladder three devices discussed above operate on what is known as “fuel cell” technology.  Fuel cell technology is highly complex but what is important is (as companies who make and sell services for these devices will readily admit) is these devices are simply not very accurate and extremely susceptible to false-positives.

Common Flaws of PBT Devices

For starters, at least one company claims the accuracy of their device to have a 0.05 margin of error.  In other words, someone who blows a 0.08 might be as high as a 0.13 or as low as a 0.03.  This is the difference between being highly intoxicated and having one glass of wine for some.

The company asks people to wait at least 20 minutes to blow after eating, drinking, or smoking.  The company admits cologne, perfume, hand sanitizer, and toothpaste can result in false positives.  Users are warned not to wear sunglasses or take the test any place where large amounts of alcohol are being consumed.

Courts are admonished by the providing companies the company itself “does not warrant the veracity of readings as evidence.”

The Biggest Problem With Portable Breath Test Devices

The biggest problem isn’t the inaccuracy or fallibility of the testing.  The companies providing these services are honest in telling us what their devices can and can’t do.  The problem is probation officers and courts who treat these device readings as the gospel and mock victims of the short-comings of the technology.

Many probation officers use deliberate and careful discretion in evaluating the results of some of these devices — but unfortunately — some do not.

One thing you learn quickly as a criminal defense attorney is how almost impossible it is to prove a negative.  Failing a PBT test puts you in this position with some evaluators who don’t believe these machines are fallible.  There is virtually no explanation you can give in your defense a probation officer can’t accuse you (or someone testifying on your behalf) of lying about.

What you can do is show how fallible the device might be.  But this assumes the listener has an open mind.  This is the biggest problem with portable breath test devices.

Users are instructed to re-attempt a sample after 10, 20 or 30 minutes to show the first result was a false positive — or if the machine is completely on the fritz — to go to a 3rd party testing agency to prove you haven’t been drinking… Here’s hoping your not in a job interview, the Mojave Desert, or on an airplane!

In Closing

One last admonition from a service provider instructs a person in the event of repeated false positives to have themselves tested by a third party — I’m guessing like an independent test lab.  If that doesn’t get done, good luck telling your probation officer you were in the middle of a job interview, important meeting, or driving through the dessert.  They can see right through those excuses.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any other situation, you should contact an attorney directly.


The Top 5 Things You Should Do When Stopped for DWI

December 29, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

Texas DWI arrests are like snowflakes in each and every case I’ve seen is unique.  Different police officers think differently from one another and there is no one-right way to “get out” of a DWI arrest.  Being cooperative and giving detailed explanations may work with some officers yet others will actually turn your helpful nature against you.  Having seen hundreds of cases,  I can tell you what normally helps and what usually makes things worse.

Here are the top 5 things you should do when being stopped or investigated for DWI.

5.  Be Friendly and Courteous to the Officer (Remember, You’re On Camera!)

A DWI trial is a rare case where the juror actually identifies with the defendant as much or more than the officer.  Jurors, therefore, subconsciously wonder how they would act towards the police in your situation.  The vast majority of jurors see themselves as being polite, friendly and cooperate regardless of how difficult the officer is being or what he asks the person to do.  If you are a jerk or are mean to the officer, not only are you almost certain to be arrested, but the jury will dislike you as well.

4.  Know Your Rights and Exercise them Wisely

You have the right to remain silent and you also have a right to refuse any of the field sobriety tests offered in the field. If you remain silent immediately after being pulled over, though, you’re daring the police officer to arrest you (and I promise he or she will find a reason).  If you refuse the field sobriety tests, your refusal of the tests is not considered “testimonial” in nature and therefore the jury will know you refused the tests.  Again, you run the risk of turning yourself into the bad guy before the jury.

If you’ve been arrested and mirandized then you should absolutely exercise your right to remain silent.  They think you’re guilty and they’ll spin anything you say into confessions of guilt.  Also remember you’re probably being taped the entire time. Don’t initiate conversations with the police in the station or in the police car.

3.  If You Do The Standardized Field Sobriety Tests

There are three field sobriety tests in a standard battery created by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”).  The three tests are the horizontal gaze nystagmus (“HGN”), the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand.  Rather than geek-out on the details of the tests and studies which validate tests which are conducted and graded correctly by the police, I’ll tell you a handful of truths about the tests.

First is if you get arrested — you can be positive the officer will say you failed the tests no matter how well you think you may have done.  This is because officers — even well meaning ones — are biased graders.  If they think you’re drunk when they first pull you over, you can be sure they’ll nit-pick your performance and find just enough fault to justify your arrest.  It’s not dishonesty, it’s being human.

Second — and most importantly — jurors see the field sobriety tests as potentially unfair.  Again, they tend to see themselves in your shoes on the side of the road.  They know it’s an intimidating environment and they also wonder if they could do the tests themselves.  The HGN is a neurological eye test performed and explained by a person who directs traffic when needed… jurors have a hard time understanding or believing HGN.  As for the other two tests, jurors understand knee, back or weight issues make the tests hard… let alone doing the test with whizzing cars, flashing lights, or gusty winds acting as nuisances.

If you take the tests — you should be sure to tell the officer any medical or physical issues you might have which could affect the test.  This could be knee issues, head injuries, back problems, broken bones etc. etc. etc…  You can be assured the officer will let your medical problems go in one ear and out the other — but the jury will get to hear the problem and they will listen.

2.  Be Skeptical of Representations the Police Officer Makes

My experience is police tend to make up their minds very quickly in DWI arrests then focus on substantiating their conclusion.  Police, though, will never admit this and are trained to manipulate you into cooperating by taking additional test and answering additional questions.

Listen to police with skepticism.  Though they could be sincere in wanting to cut you loose or let you call a friend — it’s just as likely they’ve got their fingers crossed behind their back.

“I just want to see if you’re okay to drive,” sounds to the listener like “I’m thinking of letting you go if you do okay on the test” but it isn’t.  Also statements like “honesty goes a long way with me” or “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me whats going on” sound like the officers decision could go either way… but it’s possible the officer has already called the tow-truck.

1.  Don’t Take the Breath Test

Texas Transportation Code Section 724.013 gives a person a right to refuse the breath test.  The police may try to pursue a warrant for your blood, but this isn’t a certainty and they may not do the application properly.

The Intoxylizer 5000 is the current machine used by the State of Texas.  Though I won’t geek out on it in today’s blog, I can tell you the concern of most experts I’ve worked with is it is simply too general.  A person who blows a 0.12 might actually be as low as a 0.05 at the time of driving or as high as a 0.17.

Additionally, jurors tend to understand refusing the breath test even though they might submit themselves.  They’ve head enough horror stories and they honestly don’t know how much alcohol consumption it takes to get them to a 0.08 either.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any specific situation you should contact an attorney directly.


What Happens After A DWI Arrest?

July 13, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.rosenthalwadas.com

(972) 369-0577

I am frequently asked “what now” after someone is released from jail on a driving while intoxicated arrest.  Though the specific answer may vary depending on where in Texas you were arrested, here are some answers to common questions:

What is My Legal Status?

If you just got out of jail for a DWI or DUI arrest, then you are technically released on bond.  This means have conditions to live by to assure you appear in court (or in certain cases) do not endanger the public.  You will probably not be formally charged with DWI for several weeks or in some cases (usually where there is blood evidence) for several months.  The District Attorney’s office in your county will review the report and decide whether to file a case against you with a document known as an “information.”  In Collin County virtually every case where an officer makes an arrest ultimately gets filed.

What Happens Now?

A DWI is two cases in one.  There are the driver’s license suspension issues and then there are the criminal aspects.

For the driver’s license suspension portion, you must remember you have 15 days appeal any driver’s license suspension issued because of a breath test refusal or failure (score of 0.08 or greater) within 15 days of the arrest with the Texas Department of Public Safety.  These are highly technical proceedings which lawyers commonly handle.  If a voluntary blood specimen was given, then you have 20 days after you receive notice your blood was above 0.08 blood/alcohol concentration.

For the criminal side of the case, you can expect to appear in court for an announcement when the case is filed with the information.  This appearance is more of a work-session between your lawyer than the prosecutor than an actual appearance before a judge (though in some jurisdictions the judge may wish to proceed with technical matters that require you to visit with them).  It is the announcement where your lawyer will have some access to the police report (again, depending on the jurisdiction) and access to the video evidence in the case.

Ultimately, you and your attorney will decide whether you wish to plead guilty to the charges with a plea bargain — or plead not guilty and have a trial.  It is also possible the State may dismiss the case depending various other factors.

Is My Driver’s License Suspended Immediately?

No.  If you were given a document called a DIC-25, then you have a temporary driving permit valid for 40 days from the date of the arrest.  If you appeal the suspension, the temporary permit is valid until your administrative law review hearing (ALR) which could be several months later.  This is the case even if the officer confiscated your driver’s license.

Can I Get This Off My Record?

Yes.  The steps may be different in each unique case, but not guilty verdicts and expunctions are common for DUI and DWI cases.  You should visit with a lawyer directly about how to accomplish this in your case.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact a lawyer directly.


What I Like About Defending DWI Cases Collin County

July 9, 2012

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

(972) 369-0577

Defending driving while intoxicated case presents a unique challenge to lawyers.  This is because long before entering the courtroom, you can detect a stiff headwind of resistance working against you which lasts the entire case.

You get the sense the legislature, lobbyists and victim advocacy groups, and even many jurors don’t stop to consider whether the police are right when they make an arrest.  Even the news media runs article after article about how if the courts and police were just meaner and tougher on these cases — they would somehow go away.  There is an unmistakable and heavy bias which reaches far beyond whether drunk driving is a problem — and assumes everyone suspected of DWI is guilty.

No one wants drunk drivers on the road.  Everyone’s heart breaks for victims of drunk drivers.  The vast majority of people respect and trust police which is one of the things that makes Collin County a great place to be.  But legislators, activist groups, and police are human.  By their very nature, groups with this degree of moral authority tend to make up the rules as they go along — and therein lies the potential for them to badly hurt innocent people in the name of the public good.

I enjoy the challenge of showing jurors that not everyone caught in the wide-cast-net of DWI is a drunk driver.  I enjoy showing the jury how the framers of the constitution knew the timeless attitudes of accusers, authority figures, and even society’s tendency to rush to judgment.  Most of all, I enjoy the challenge of winning cases where there is a steep up-hill climb with skeptical jurors, difficult police officers, and strict rules limiting our ability to defend the case.

Though I’m probably biased in favor of Collin County jurors, I enjoy trying cases in front of people that live in places like Allen, Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Richardson for the reason they are intelligent and open minded.  Without people even willing to listen — having a fair trial anywhere would be impossible.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any situation you should contact an attorney directly.  Contacting the attorney through this forum does not create an attorney-client relationship nor are any communications confidential or privileged.


Governor Perry Vetoes Texting While Driving Ban

June 19, 2011

By Dallas and Collin Count Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 562-7549

www.thecollincountylawyer.com

The Texas legislature recently passed House Bill 242 which made texting while driving illegal in Texas.  It would have made violations a Class C misdemeanor, which is the lowest offense level – equivalent to speeding.

On June 17, 2011, Governor Perry vetoed the bill saying the bill was “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”  He did state texting while driving was “reckless and irresponsible.”

Study after study has shown texting while driving to be as or more dangerous than drunk driving.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice about any specific situation you should contact an attorney directly.