Breath test results spanning two years may be thrown out of court

Breath test devices are often used by Massachusetts police officers to determine if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol. However, it is important that such devices are properly calibrated. As one recent case ruled, if such devices are not properly handled it could lead to faulty readings that may not admissible against the accused.

A judge recently ruled that for over two years a Massachusetts crime lab that is tasked with certifying breath test devices did not follow written protocols. The judge ruled that, from June 2012 to September 2014, the state's calibrations of its breath tests devices did not meet scientific standards. This was because instead of following written protocols, the lab merely used worksheets, oftentimes with additional paperwork stapled or paper clipped to them. These worksheets were based on protocols that were only established in informal meetings. The judge deemed that these worksheets were insufficient to use as standards for breath test instrument calibration, as they lacked a number of important items. In addition, the judge found that the Office of Alcohol Testing did not have written policies in place with regards to its workers' job duties and how the office should manage its breath test devices.

Because of this, it is possible that evidence from this lab against defendants in drunk driving cases may not be admitted into court. Over 500 individuals facing drunk driving charges joined in this recent hearing challenging the crime lab results. Moreover, there has been a stay placed on several thousand more cases pending the results of the hearing.

That being said, once written protocols were established after September 2014, evidence resulting from breath test instruments may not be affected by this ruling. Moreover, the judge rejected the argument that breath test devices used in Massachusetts were fundamentally unreliable. However, this is an important development in the cases of many people across Massachusetts. Those accused of DUI who believe they were subject to a breath test reading that was inaccurate may want to seek legal advice to determine how best to challenge such evidence.

Source: Milford Daily News, "Judge casts doubt on drunk driving evidence from 2012-2014," Jim Haddadin, Feb. 17, 2017

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