CHICOPEE, MA – The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts will be hearing a case on December 7th which may lead to roughly 27,000 DUI cases being abandoned. Lawyers in the case, the Commonwealth vs. Lindsay Hallinan, claim court rulings that found a state lab hid documents showing the breathalyzer results were presented as evidence to be allowed to withdraw their guilty pleas.
Officers and prosecutors throughout the country rely on breathalyzer machines to produce evidence that a person has an illegal blood alcohol content when they have been arrested for DUI.
While the mass majority of the evidence derived from those machines is credible, one machine, the Alcotest 9510 was brought into question after it was ruled in 2017 the certifying body of the machine did not produce scientifically reliable results between 2011 and 2014.
The @MassStatePolice just released this update on behalf of the Office of Alcohol testing re: recent court decision that ALLOWS breath test evidence to be introduced again in statewide OUI prosecutions. #25Investigates #boston25 pic.twitter.com/iFA4Hy4cDC
— Ted Daniel (@TedDanielnews) January 12, 2022
Salem District Court Judge Robert Brennan made the ruling in February of 2017, stating while the Alcotest 9510 produced accurate results, the state agency charged with certifying the machine, the Office of Alcohol Testing, had intentionally hidden 432 worksheets from prosecutors, after receiving a court order to produce them which showed failed Alcotest 9510 calibration tests.
When the case was ruled, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security conducted a review which found that the Office of Alcohol Testing committed several violations regarding the case. They wrote, in part:
“[The Office of Alcohol Testing made] serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded which frequently failed to seek out or take advantage of available legal resources, and which was inattentive to the legal obligation borne by those whose work facilities legal prosecutions.”
The review determined the office had intentionally withheld information that may have exonerated defendants, refused to obey court orders, and hid evidence that their testing process of the machine was in itself faulty.
As a result, Judge Brennan ensured that prosecutors would not present any results from the Alcotest as evidence from 2011 until the Office of Alcohol Testing rectified the situation by gaining accreditation and developing policies and procedures to ensure nothing like this happens again.
Breathalyzer tests administered in the state of Mass. cannot be used as evidence in court until the Office of Alcohol Testing can prove results are accurate. What do you think? 🚔🚨 https://t.co/q1qd04XJWr pic.twitter.com/uRzz481Kvu
— Boston 25 News (@boston25) January 10, 2019
After the ruling, the state sent out a notice to the roughly 27,000 people who had been given a breath test utilizing the Alcotest from June 2011 until April 18, 2019, notifying them that the results of the tests had been excluded from their trials or plea agreements. The notice said:
“As a result, an opportunity may exist for you to challenge the disposition in your case if a Draeger Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer machine was used in your case for which you were convicted or admitted to sufficient facts for Operating Under the Influence of Liquor.”
The ruling caused people like Lindsay Hallinan, who admitted there were enough facts present that would lead to a conviction for her second DUI offense in 2013, to consider if she has the right to withdraw her guilty plea based on the potential her breath test results were faulty.
Whether she has the right to withdraw her plea or not hinges on the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services believes that the SJC will not only allow those who accepted plea agreements in part based upon breath test results from the Alcotest will be able to withdraw their, pleas.
Additionally, they believe that the court should take a step further by vacating and dismissing all convictions for those who were given the test. In a brief, they wrote:
“Given the widespread, systemic nature of [the Office of Alcohol Testing’s] misconduct, this Court should vacate and dismiss the convictions and admissions of all defendants affected by the [Alcotest] decision, rather than leave relief to case-by-case adjudication.”
Judge Bernard, who was interviewed regarding his decision, seemingly agrees with the attorney’s brief. He said:
“What we’re saying here is that because of the egregious government misconduct in all of these cases from 2011 to 2019, you need to give these defendants another bite at the apple. It’s only fair because of the deception and…the utter dysfunction of the OAT.”
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