Many people think that the evidence provided by breath alcohol testing is supremely accurate and incontrovertible. But law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts are finding out the hard way that this is not always the case.
District attorneys across the commonwealth are instructing prosecutors to disregard Breathalyzer test results in pending cases. That's because it was reported earlier this month that the breath test evidence taken by Draeger 9510 machines, commonly referred to as "Breathalyzer machines" were not working properly in many jurisdictions.
It all started in mid-March, when a DUI defense attorney was notified about a problem with the liquid solution used in the breath test machine that tested his client. The attorney, Armond Colombo, told The Salem News:
“Apparently, the solution was reading outside of the range allowed…if it doesn't fall within that range, the machine should be telling itself it needs to be checked.”
It soon became clear that the problem was impacting counties across Massachusetts, prompting prosecutors to refrain from using breath test results in their OUI (operating under the influence) cases. As a result, some OUI cases may have to be dismissed and others reexamined. For instance, Colombo's client pled guilty to OUI after the breath test registered a reading above the legal limit of .08. The client may be entitled to a new trial.
This issue comes a few years after a similar scandal enveloped the commonwealth. Annie Dookhan, a chemist who worked on many OUI cases, was found to have been falsifying test results in a number of cases in order to aid prosecutors. Though no deliberate misconduct is suspected in the current breath test issue, the end result could be the same: plenty of drunk driving cases thrown out, and the integrity of Massachusetts law enforcement processes being questioned yet again.
Does this sound familiar? Change the date to 2007 and the location is Washington State. Here we had our own scandal involving the fraudulent lab manager, Ann Marie Gordon, which lead to the discovery of thousands and thousands of affected breath tests due to incorrectly measured solutions.
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