Drunken Driving Convictions Could be in Jeopardy Due to Breathalyzer Problems

A problem with the calibration of Breathalyzer machines appears to be the issue

State officials are reviewing breathalyzer tests in Massachusetts after finding a possible problem with calibration.

“When properly used and maintained, the breath test instrument is one of the most accurate and reliable tools we have to identify and investigate drunk drivers,” said Felix Browne of the Executive Office of Public Safety. “To ensure the integrity of this method of testing, which is used by departments across the Commonwealth, the State Police are performing a review to determine whether any problems exist in the testing procedures.”

Joseph Higgins, a Norwell attorney who specializes in DUI cases, says breath tests are critical in determining how he handles cases. Many of Higgins' cases could be impacted.

“Often times the breath test result can be the most important factor in someone’s decision on how they want to handle their case.”

State officials confirm the devices used are the Draeger Alcotest 9510. Company officials declined to comment.

It’s unclear how the problem may have happened, how many cases are impacted, and when the potential problems began.

Necn has obtained a memo dated March 9 that was sent from the state’s Office of Alcohol Testing to the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association notifying them of a possible problem with calibration.

Necn contacted several DA offices for comment.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan says her office is suspending the use of breath test results in operating under the influence cases until further notice.

Cape and Islands DA Michael O’Keefe says his office will refrain from introducing the breath test as well, but says police have been advised to continue to offer the test.

Norfolk County says it has eight cases that have been impacted and will not use results from any incorrectly calibrated breath tests, while Suffolk County says so far it only has two affected cases. Still, Suffolk County is reviewing other evidence in those cases, such as slurred speech, to see if prosecutors can still meet the burden of proof.

In Essex County, five cases are impacted, and District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett says his staff has suspended use of breath test results.

“Well anytime there’s been an issue with the system or test like this that may have formed the basis of convictions or pleas that is a problem,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey told necn.

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