Court Ruling: Breathalyzer results excluded from trial evidence until state gets its act together

It has been an uphill battle for defense attorneys, but the court has issued a good ruling Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ use of unreliable breath tests in OUI/DUI cases.

The most recent round of litigation concerning the scientific reliability of the state’s breath-test units has been going on since 2017, and on January 9, 2019, the Court rendered its decision holding the state accountable for its misconduct and its “resulting damage to the criminal justice system.” The Court’s decision was influenced by an agreement filed on August 14, 2018 by defense attorneys and all the county District Attorneys. This agreement addressed the reliability of the Alcotest 9510 breath-test results in Massachusetts and proposed potential sanctions in response to the Office of Alcohol Testing’s failure to produce at least 400 documents exhibiting problems with these devices. The Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT) is the agency that oversees breath testing technology in Massachusetts.

Although the prosecutors were in agreement that a sanction was appropriate, the Court did not accept their proposal to just exclude the breath-test results calibrated prior to August 31, 2017. The Court stated that it did not believe this remedy was enough to address the underlying problems with OAT. Accordingly, the Court rendered a decision that serves not only as a sanction, but also as a corrective measure to prevent any future misconduct.
Consequently, the Court has excluded breath-test results for an indefinite period until the State can demonstrate that the agency’s current methodology will produce scientifically reliable results. In order to accomplish this, the Court has provided the District Attorneys with a list of requirements which includes directives for OAT to apply for accreditation, to disseminate discovery protocols and training to its staff, and to provide public access to accreditation application and written protocols.

The Court’s decision recognized that OAT needed more than just a slap on the wrist, and the Court rightfully demanded a major reform to prevent any more people being adversely affected by the agency’s wrongdoing.