Mass. Court Ruling Bans Breathalyzer Results in Drunk Driving Cases

Breathalyzer, Police, Sobriety test

It’s a case that goes back at least as far as 2011. The Massachusetts State Police Office of Alcohol Testing is implicated in a scandal to hide faulty Breathalyzer equipment. Initial questions related to inconsistencies were blamed on operator error. But the problem didn’t go away and several local Massachusetts DA’s stopped accepting the results as evidence.

And now a judge has ruled that they are not admissible anywhere in the state until the problems are addressed.

Barbara Howard (NPR): The breathalyzers have to be properly calibrated to be accurate, and you write that when they were bought, they were not calibrated properly by those responsible at the Office of Alcohol Testing, which is part of the Massachusetts State Police. Was the State Police forthcoming about this?

Julie Manganis (Salem News): My understanding is that they weren’t. Initially, they suggested that it was user error, basically putting the blame on the police officers and other people who were using the devices. So a group of lawyers ended up filing a class-action to try to get to the bottom of it.

Howard: When did it come out that these things weren’t being calibrated properly?

Manganis: As I recall, an attorney in one drunk driving case had requested some data on the Draeger 9510 breathalyzer machines. They noticed some discrepancies. It kind of snowballed from there, and starting in March of 2015, several district attorneys decided that until they could resolve the issue, they would stop using the results in drunk driving cases.

The state has agreed to undergo a lengthy certification process they must satisfy before the equipment can be reintroduced into the field.

Field sobriety test results are still admissible.

Any Problems in New Hampshire?

Aside from implied consent laws, liberty issues with sobriety checkpoints, and the possibility of flawed results that come standard with the practice, no problems like the one in Massachusetts.

New Hampshire did endure at least one minor scandal related to breathalyzer certification. Law enforcement officers are required to take an annual certification test. In 2015 a glitch in an online recertification test may have inaccurately produced passing results for 64 officers. 

They will have long since taken another certification test.