The Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that alcohol tests given in Massachusetts between June 2011 and April 2019 with a type of breath test machine that periodically malfunctioned cannot be used in drunk-driving prosecutions. Their ruling throws roughly 27,000 OUI convictions into question.
The Court’s Decision
While the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling ends a lengthy legal battle, it does not mean those cases will be automatically dismissed because someone can be convicted of drunk driving without a breath test using other methods. These methods include field sobriety tests, driver statements, or police observations. You must request a new trial, as many already have since 2020, when county prosecutors agreed to notify them of their ability to request a new trial due to problems with the device, the Alcotest 9510.
Here’s what you need to know about what led to the court’s decision:
- As early as 2011, State Police were using breath tests on people that returned inaccurate results, Justice Frank M. Gaziano wrote in his 46-page ruling
- In response to a lawsuit, State Police were required to turn over nearly 2,000 worksheets that documented the effectiveness of the tests
- While initially only 11 of the worksheets indicated a “failed calibration,” Gaziano wrote, a 2017 investigation revealed that State Police “intentionally withheld an additional 432 worksheets that reported failures in the annual calibration process” without telling prosecutors, defense lawyers, or the judge in the case
That misconduct “violated the right to due process for approximately 27,000 defendants“ who can seek new trials. Any breath test conducted between June 1, 2011, and April 18, 2019, using the Alcotest 9510 device “must be excluded in any pending or future prosecutions.”
District attorneys’ offices in Massachusetts say they are prepared to handle any incoming appeals, as every office established a system for reviewing these appeals in 2020 after acknowledging the misconduct by State Police was severe enough to notify defendants they could request a new trial.
Which Cases Are Ineligible
The type of people likely to appeal are those who pleaded guilty solely because of the breath test result rather than people whose conduct or condition blatantly pointed to intoxication. For example, if there’s overwhelming evidence of intoxication above and beyond the breath test, it’s those cases and only those cases that won’t be overturned.
Approximately 90 percent of those 27,000 people pled guilty because of the breath test, so this ruling gives them another chance at their case. Several district attorneys’ offices report that all affected defendants had already received letters and that their offices will continue reviewing additional requests for a new trial.
Prosecutors in other counties, including Suffolk and the Cape and Islands, said the number of new appeals they receive would determine whether they will continue to review requests individually or adopt a new approach.
How the Court’s Decision May Affect Your Case
The high court’s ruling will help defendants by eliminating one of the prongs required to win a motion for a new trial. According to Gaziano:
“Requiring tens of thousands of defendants to bear the cost of proving that OAT’s conduct was egregiously impermissible would be antithetical to our responsibility to ensure the efficient administration of justice.”
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency, applauded the court's ruling. Additionally, the chief counsel of the public defender's office, Anthony Benedetti, praised the court’s ruling as “a victory for the thousands of people living with tainted convictions and those who believe the government should be accountable for its actions.”
Gilman Law is Here to Help
The court’s ruling is excellent news for qualified defendants convicted during the qualifying period. An experienced OUI lawyer in Massachusetts can help you understand whether you qualify and challenge your alleged performance on breath test results based on the court’s ruling.
An experienced OUI/DUI lawyer who knows about field sobriety tests and why they are misleading evidence also knows what to consider when challenging the result of the tests. Contact Gilman Law today to learn more about the Massachusetts supreme court ruling.