Sheila Carter was arrested by law enforcement in Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas, last week for her third
felony charge. Taking the old local news maxim "if it bleeds it leads" almost literally,
a news story by Jessica Willey on Houston's KTRK this week reported her blood alcohol level was .47 as per the results of an unspecified test that occurred after an October, 2010, crash. What type of test this was and whether it was obtained by consent, force, search warrant, or subpoena wasn't mentioned in the broadcast or on-line piece.
In addition to not describing the underlying incident in detail or whether the .47 BAC was measured by a blood or breath test, no one mentioned the possibility that the test result might be wrong. This despite a doctor on camera stating,
"[y]ou hardly will ever see anybody with a blood alcohol level that high..."[y]ou're getting to the level where you might be comatose, be unconscious, be unable to walk, unable to function." The implication is that this result is the result of the accused having a high tolerance or drinking a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time.
Whether this was an accurate test result is something a competent defense lawyer will investigate, whether this is competent reporting by Jessica Willey and/or editors at KTRK can be examined now. Obvious questions weren't asked of either the prosecutor or the physician in the story and alternative views weren't reported. If they were, they didn't make the cut into the final report and may leave the audience wondering.
While KTRK reached out to a doctor at Kelsey-Seybold about the .47, they didn't discuss with him on air potential problems with these tests or produce anyone else who could. The potential problems with blood alcohol testing could have quickly been addressed by a DWI defense lawyer, of which there are many in the Houston area. Such problems include lack of or non-compliance with sound procedures, mishandling of evidence, contamination of samples, improperly functioning lab equipment, and other causes of inaccurate test results. Considering the frequency of "Not Guilty" verdicts in DWI cases with
blood and breath tests, controversies in recent years regarding
forced blood draw programs,
this prosecutor, and crime labs, it may have made sense to provide context and/or another perspective. The presumption of innocence is absent in this story. There appears, instead, an implied presumption of accuracy of an undisclosed test and a justice system many find to be otherwise.
According to the same story, the Court set a high bond for the Ms. Carter, $100,000, even higher than the DA request. Why that was appropriate is another question not asked on-air. Again, considering recent area controversies about jail overcrowding due to high bonds, a thorough journalist might have dug deeper -especially considering that the incident occurred more than six months ago and that there is no allegation the accused has attempted to flee the jurisdiction or committed another crime in the interim. One would infer from this report that an allegedly high BAC necessitates a high bond.
This story fails to convey basic facts of the case and further fails to challenge the government on any issue. This type of reporting isn't just insensitive to the accused, its a disservice to viewers who rely on news outlets for accurate and comprehensive journalism to make informed judgments about public affairs. It isn't reporting; it's repeating.DWI may be a problem in Texas, but isn't a problem that is solved by denying individual defendants a fair hearing in the courthouse or the court of public opinion.