The Intox EC/IR II: A Black Box

Imagine tax day comes around and the government asks you to submit all your receipts, your W2s, your bank statements, and other financial documents.

Imagine further that the government then inputs all of this material into a huge black box called The Tax Machine. After a few seconds, the machine spits out a number. Maybe it’s $5,000. Maybe it’s $25,000. Maybe it’s $75,000.

Whatever the number, the Government tells you that that’s the amount of money you must pay in taxes. Take it or leave it.

You ask, “how does the machine work?” And are told, “We put your documents in, pressed a button, and out came this number – your tax bill.”

You ask, “who made this machine, and how did they make it?” And you’re told, “Some company in St. Louis. It’s the only company that manufactures it. It doesn’t release the inner workings of the device. It doesn’t give the device to your accountant to check its accuracy.”

You ask, “who performed preventative maintenance on this machine?” You’re told, “Some guy in the last 90 days. But we don’t need to have him tell you what he did as part of this maintenance.”

You ask, “How many people’s financial records were analyzed by this machine before mine?” You’re told, “No idea!”

I imagine most Americans, whether they favor high taxes or low, would be horrified. It’s bad enough that the IRS today is so unaccountable, but it’d be horrible to contemplate an IRS that did not reveal how it arrived at numbers, and did not allow you to have your accountant double check how those numbers were generated.

This is basically the story of the Intox EC/IR II, the device used in North Carolina to analyze a person’s breath following a DWI arrest.

The Intox EC/IR II is a complete black box. I once called Intoximeters to try to purchase the machine, and was essentially told to buzz off. The fear, I guess, is that if a smart, aggressive criminal defense lawyer starts picking apart the inner-workings of the device, it might be shown to be something of a fraud.

In any case, North Carolina relies upon the device. Even worse, North Carolina DWI law allows the state to offer the results of this black box into evidence without any testimony about how the device was calibrated, how it operates, what it’s actually doing when it measures the breath.

It’s push-button justice. And it’s just not right.

* Note: I’ve borrowed the above analogy from an attorney I witnessed recently in Wake County DWI court. It’s an analogy I’ve used in jury trials. *

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Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.