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Validity of 2,600 DWI cases in doubt

By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News

Published October 25, 2008
A contractor accused of altering breathalyzer calibration records could face criminal charges, state officials said, and the incidents could undermine as many as 2,600 alcohol-related cases.

Tela Mange, a spokeswoman with the Texas Department of Public Safety, said Friday that a routine state audit revealed that electronic records had been altered to make it appear that a technical supervisor had inspected the instruments, which detect how much alcohol a person has consumed.

Mange didn’t reveal the name of the contractor under investigation, saying the state hasn’t filed charges.

The state has accused the contractor of failing to ensure for up to a year that the calibrations were accurate on the breath machines.

The state requires monthly calibration of the machines, which are used in prosecution of alcohol-related offenses, such as driving while intoxicated.

The discovery affects cases in Harris, Brazoria and Galveston counties, including the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Galveston, Friendswood and League City.

Sheriff’s office cases affected by the discovery are expected to be minimal, said Maj. Ray Tuttoilmondo, a spokesman for the sheriff.

Galveston County Criminal District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said his office was present at a Friday meeting in Houston when the state revealed its discovery.

“This will very likely have an impact on many of our DWI cases, but it is too early to have an exact number to date,” Sistrunk said.

Sistrunk began going through pending and pleaded cases to determine how many are potentially affected.

“We’ve already sent notice to the defense bar that we have begun researching our cases, and we will work together to ensure that those trials, pleas and pending cases that have been impacted will be properly addressed,” Sistrunk said.

Col. Stan Clark, interim director of the Department of Public Safety, said the state suspended the contractor’s certification. The Texas Rangers will conduct a criminal investigation, he said.

“These are serious allegations and we will not tolerate any activities that call into question the integrity of the breath-test system,” Clark said. “I want to emphasize that DPS discovered these irregularities and took immediate action.”

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