The recent revelation that many of the breathalyzer machines used by many Massachusetts police departments, has resurrected a debate between law enforcement and prosecutors on the one side, and criminal defense attorneys on the other, over whether and how accurate these machines really are.
The controversy began in mid-March, when a fairly high number of breathalyzer results were found to be unreliable due to failures that were not fully explained at that time. The issue reached a fever pitch last week, when District Attorneys in eight Massachusetts counties – Suffolk, Middlesex, Essex, Cape & Islands, Worcester, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Northwestern counties – disclosed that their prosecutors were temporarily suspending the introduction of breathalyzer results into evidence in drunken-driving cases that were pending in their offices. Last week, The Boston Globe ran a lead editorial, calling for the temporary ban to be adopted statewide by all Massachusetts District Attorney’s Offices.
The Globe is wise to make such a call. The premise that breathalyzer machines can detect alcohol in a person’s breath, has never really been disputed. The problem has always been with the accuracy of the machines: If the machines are not regularly serviced, maintained, and calibrated accurately by specially trained police department users, the blood alcohol readings these machines produce can be highly doubtful. As a Dedham, Massachusetts OUI lawyer, I can’t tell you how many Massachusetts OUI charges I’ve had dismissed due to faulty breathalyzer readings. An example? I ‘ve had more than one OUI client, who was arrested on Massachusetts drunk driving charges, who had ingested nothing more than breath mints or mouthwash – which breathalyzer machines can mistakenly detect as alcohol. More commonly, the machines are not calibrated accurately, and thus the results they produce are flawed.