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Houston District Attorney Faces Grand Jury As Truth About Inaccuracy in Tests for Drunk Driving Is Exposed in BAT Van Scandal

Here in Texas, law enforcement’s excitement over their Drunk Driving campaigns has already become pretty darn scary what with the threat to due process rights of every citizen on the road with the current 24/7 No Refusal campaigns.  To read more about them, and growing national concern over their threats to our constitutional rights, check out our earlier post for details.

Breath Tests for DWI Aren’t Reliable; BAT Vans Compound the Likelihood of Error

However, the use of roaming mobile breath test labs on Texas roadways is taking things to a higher level of threat.  These “BAT Vans” look like recreational vehicles with police department logos on the outside; on the inside, they are set up as laboratories with seats for medical technicians, cops, or nurses – as well as the lab equipment to perform drunk driving tests on the road.  To learn all about these vehicles, just visit the website for Brown Specialty Vehicles which makes and sells these things around the country.

It’s well known that these vans are conducting tests that can be flat out wrong.  Breath tests aren’t all that reliable, no matter how law enforcement pretends that they are.  However, the BAT Vans add another level of error to the whole thing:  seems the vans themselves can mess with the test results, because of electrical issues and such.  For more on how these BAT Vans can taint test results, read this post by Grits for Breakfast.

HPD Crime Lab Tech Supervisors Quit Over BAT Van Problems

Or read the testimony from this past summer, when former Houston Police Department Crime Lab worker Amanda Culbertson testified under oath that she – along with TWO OTHER technical supervisors quit their jobs (in THIS ECONOMY) because no one was respecting their complaints about serious problems with the BAT vans and their Breathalyzer results.  Culbertson explained that there were electrical, mechanical and temperature issues which might influence the test results.

Back then, Harris County District Attorney Patricia Lykos issued a media statement in response to Culbertson’s testimony: “We sponsor the crime laboratory’s scientific evidence in our prosecutions. Accordingly, we have a responsibility to ensure that the evidence was collected and analyzed properly.”

So did the Houston Police Department: “At this time, HPD is not aware of any tests being compromised due to temperatures within the BAT vans. We were alerted to past air conditioning problems within the BAT vans and have worked to correct the issue by installing rear air conditioning units in the vans. Additionally, all officers operating the BAT vans have been trained on the proper procedures to allow for air conditioners to work properly. Vans not kept at the proper temperature settings do not cause the instruments to give false readings. Instead, the instruments would not give a reading at all, thus preventing any invalid tests.”

The BAT Vans Controversy in DWI Cases – Harris County District Attorney in the Hot Seat as DA’s Office May Face Criminal Charges

Those statements may come back to haunt them now.  First, a Harris County judge heard a challenge to a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) conviction and agreed with the defense attorney.  The judge overturned the DWI conviction because it had been based upon a BAT van lab result – and the judge found that both the Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney did not reveal information about these BAT Vans to the defense.

Seems that the District Attorney’s Office and the Houston cops knew about the problems with these BAT vans and they didn’t bother telling anyone.  Like the defendant in the drunk driving case where the BAT Van was being used to convict him of driving drunk.

What made the Houston criminal court judge think there was a secret about the BAT Vans that the police and the prosecutors both knew about?  Well, seems there were emails.  And apparently other legal documents.

Grand Jury Probe Into Harris County District Attorney and HPD

A grand jury investigation began.  A special prosecutor was appointed.  And yes, the grand jury is investigating possible criminal acts by the District Attorney’s Office of Harris County.

Things got messy fast.  By November, two of the top deputies in the DA’s Office and two court reporters were subpoenaed before the Grand Jury to explain how secret grand jury testimony transcripts somehow got into their hands.

Here’s the deal: instead of hiding all this stuff, if there is a problem with the BAT Vans then the District Attorney’s Office is legally required to reveal the problem.  Their goal is suppose to be justice after all, not a winning conviction record.

The question soon became not IF there was a shared secret, but when did the police and the DA know about the BAT Van problems.  Which is why this week, Houston District Attorney Pat Lycos had to appear before the Harris County Grand Jury to testify about when she knew and what she knew about these BAT vans.

There’s more than one serious issue here.  Sneaky circumvention of a defendant’s right to a fair trial, sure.  Ignoring the oath to seek justice, sure.  However, there’s one more thing that should be important to all of us:  law enforcement has RVs roaming around, pulling people over for breath tests that are known to give flaky results … and that’s been okay over in Houston, apparently.  Couple that with the growing popularity of the 24/7 No Refusal campaigns, and you have to wonder about how endangered our due process rights are these days.

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