The topic is nothing new to this blog; breathalyzer results used to try to convict people of a DUI are thrown out because of their lack of reliability.
The latest incident comes from Massachusetts where a judge ruled that breathalyzers in over 400 DUI cases must be thrown out until the machine that police in that state use to determine a driver’s blood alcohol content can be proven as accurate.
In the consolidated case, Judge Robert Brennan found that the Office of Alcohol Testing had failed to release evidence to DUI defense attorneys that breathalyzers used in their client’s cases were inaccurate. As a result, the head of the office was fired, the results of the breathalyzers were thrown out, and prosecutors are scrambling to find additional evidence to prove the intoxication of those drivers.
According to Massachusetts law, if someone refuses a breathalyzer, their refusal cannot be revealed in a DUI trial against that person as a means to avoid prejudicing a judge or jury. When that happens, prosecutors are forced to rely on law enforcement officers’ testimony that a person was intoxicated based on their observations.
“I expect to see more of an emphasis on observations of the subject, both at the scene and at the station while being booked and in custody,” said Bellingham Police Chief Gerard Daigle. “Recognition of the signs and symptoms of impairment will be crucial. It’s similar to what is needed if the tests were refused.”
Additionally, Judge Brennan said that the Office of Alcohol Testing must undergo significant reform including providing additional training for staff and instituting internal regulations for complying with discovery requests in criminal cases, including DUI cases, similar to those that are followed by the state police’s crime management unit.
“Right now, there’s serious cause to doubt the scientific results,” said Massachusetts attorney, Daniel Cappetta. “Judge Brennan has rightly decided that these tests shouldn’t be used to take anyone’s liberty.”
The Office of Alcohol Testing is planning on applying for nation accreditation by August of this year and district attorney offices will be monitoring the office’s progress.
“We are reviewing yesterday’s ruling,” said District Attorney, Marian Ryan. “Moving forward, we will continue to be in contact with OAT regarding the date for their compliance with the judge’s order.”
This is not the first time Massachusetts has dealt with issues of faulty breathalyzers. In fact, this is not the first time Judge Brennan has overseen DUI cases dealing with the reliability of the state’s use of breathalyzers.
In September of last year, I wrote Tens of Thousands of DUI Cases Affected by Tainted Breathalyzers in Massachusetts where the same Judge Brennan, who was presiding over proceedings challenging the reliability of breathalyzers since 2015, was provided with an agreement that prosecutors were not use breathalyzer results dating back to 2011. The reason was due to the lack of proper calibration of the breathalyzers since the state purchased them in 2011.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, drivers should never submit to a pre-arrest breathalyzer and they should only submit to required chemical test breathalyzer (rather than a blood test) if they’re unsure whether their blood alcohol content was above or below the legal limit. The reason for this is precisely because they are inaccurate. Whether through inherent mechanical flaws or less-than-trustworthy toxicology labs, if a driver’s blood alcohol content is slightly above the legal limit, it is easier for defense attorneys to argue that there’s a chance that the driver’s blood alcohol content is actually below the legal limit.