According to an article in the MetroWest Daily News, district attorneys in multiple counties in Massachusetts are suspending the use of breathalyzer tests in drunk driving cases because of suspected problems with the breathalyzer machines, which test blood alcohol content. The exact issue, which may involve software or calibration of the machines, has not been released.
The concerns first came to light in mid-March, when the Massachusetts State Police apparently notified multiple district attorneys’ offices that there were issues with some of the breathalyzer tests given to defendants in their respective counties. The district attorneys’ offices contacted the defense attorneys in those specific cases, but the state police have now indicated that the problem may go beyond those isolated matters. The Executive Office of Public Safety has been unable to confirm exactly how many cases might be affected.
Given the fact that breathalyzer tests can play an important role in prosecutions and often persuade defendants charged with operating under the influence to plead guilty, the Massachusetts Bar Association has called for an independent investigation into the reliability of breathalyzer tests used to prosecute people suspected of drunken driving and has urged a moratorium on introducing the tests as evidence until these concerns are resolved. The MBA’s chief legal counsel specifically stated that while “drunk driving is a very serious issue in Massachusetts…people’s constitutional rights are also important…[and the MBA does] not want to see people convicted and taking plea agreements based on faulty evidence.”
A state police spokesperson has issued a statement indicating that officers might have accepted test results from breathalyzer machines that were not properly calibrated. The spokesperson further stated that the state police have opened a review of the concerns regarding the questionable breathalyzer results, with findings expected next week.
In light of these issues, district attorneys in Middlesex, Essex, Suffolk, Worcester, Norfolk, Plymouth, and the Cape and Islands have decided to suspend use of the breathalyzer test results as evidence. The Berkshire district attorney is not suspending use of breathalyzer results – prosecutors there will apparently be reviewing the issue on a case-by-case basis. Continue reading →