Weakest Link in the Chain May Mean Thousands of DUI Cases Overturned in Massachusetts

Were you charged with DUI at anytime between 2012 and 2014? Are you either awaiting a decision or were convicted of DUI? It is possible that your case may be overturned as a result of a district court ruling on the accuracy of the breathalyzer used in Massachusetts during that period.

The breathalyzer in question is the Alcotest 9150. It’s certainly not a new machine, as it has been in use since the 1970s. The machine is used to provide evidence that can help determine whether a person was driving while under the influence of alcohol at the time they were arrested.

This machine is the only type of breathalyzer used by police in Massachusetts. It is widely used elsewhere, not just in the U.S., but in 20 other countries.

A calibration problem has caused the decision by District Court Judge, Robert Brennan to stay any cases of DUI that are outstanding dating to the period July 2012 and September 2014, but potentially many more criminal convictions which resulted from use of the tests during that critical period.

Unreliable Calibration Behind the Ruling

The machine’s intrinsic reliability is not itself in question. Justice Brennan acknowledged that the use of the machine under controlled lab conditions proved that it could reliably detect the amount of alcohol in someone’s blood (BAC) at the time of the test. The problem it seems is due to a weak link in the chain of DUI testing, that is that of the proper calibration of the machines. Like any measuring instrument, calibration is important to ensure that it is measuring some kind of factor accurately. When a person can receive a criminal conviction because of a slight inaccuracy in a DUI test, the importance of calibration is clearly seen.

Alcotest 9150 is developed and maintained by Draeger Safety Diagnostics and the tests themselves are carried out by the Massachusetts Office of Alcohol Testing on behalf of the Massachusetts Police. The Office of Alcohol Testing is itself responsible for ensuring reliable calibration is carried out annually according to a prescribed protocol. It seems that prior to September 2014, these protocols were judged to be unreliable according to Justice Brennan’s judgment.

It appears that after the testing equipment was first introduced in the state, that protocols were not consistently established or used, right up to September 2014, when this was established. Protocols for tests for gases, solutions, the preparation of breathalyzer tests themselves and general quality control were not consistent, but spread by word of mouth from one scientist to another.

The ruling does not affect those DUI cases whose breathalyzer tests were carried out after recent machine test calibration had been

20,000 Former DUI Convictions Might be in Question

The number of DUI convictions, whether they had gone to trial or decided after a plea bargain, that took place between July 2012 and September 2014 could be up to 20,000. There is no indication at this stage what could happen to these convictions if an appeal by the prosecution is quashed. Judge Brennan’s ruling does not mean that former DUI convictions are automatically in question. Prosecutors must be able to prove that the use of the machine was totally reliable for the convictions to hold.

Breathalyzer Design is Just One Link in a Chain

There are many ways that a DUI charge can be challenged. In some states, the reliability of the actual design of a breathalyzer may be in doubt. In other cases, the charge relies solely on the subjective opinion of an arresting police officer. In others, like with the Alcotest 9150, there are doubts about the reliability of the tests because of the way the machine has been cleaned, maintained, used or calibrated. All it takes is a single weak link in the chain from the time that a suspect is pulled over by police right through to a charge being laid for a good criminal defense attorney to challenge the

If you have been charged with DUI in Massachusetts, even if you were not tested by a breathalyzer in the period under question, you should not assume that you will be convicted. A criminal conviction for DUI could affect you and your family for the rest of your life. There are many reasons why you could get your charge thrown out. Contact an experienced DUI attorney at the Abood law Office in Lansing at 517-332-5900 or Birmingham at 248-549-0000.

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