Issues with Massachusetts Breathalyzer Tests

For years, law enforcement officers in Massachusetts and across the country have relied on breath tests to determine an approximation of a driver’s blood alcohol content (BAC). These devices typically consist of a tube that is connected to a small machine. When an officer believes that a driver is under the influence of alcohol, the officer can ask the driver to take a breath test. If the test result indicates that the driver’s BAC is greater than .08, they can be arrested and charged with driving under the influence.

The use of breath alcohol tests is extremely prevalent. However, the use of breath alcohol testing devices can raise several legal issues in Boston DUI cases. One of the major limitations of breath testing machines, from a law enforcement perspective, is that they currently only test for alcohol. However, some jurisdictions have begun working on breath testing machines that could also be used to test for narcotics, such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin.

Massachusetts law provides that all drivers must take a breath alcohol test when a police officer makes such a request. However, being required to take a breath test along the side of the road is an intrusion into drivers’ privacy interests. Thus, officers must base their request for a driver to take a test on articulable facts supporting a belief that the driver is intoxicated. If an officer is unable to point to any evidence suggesting that the motorist was drunk, the test results may need to be excluded. Of course, this introduces an element of subjectivity into the mix because an officer’s observations that a driver was “acting drunk” are rarely captured on video. This raises the issue of police officer credibility, especially when a motorist recalls a vastly different series of events leading up to their arrest.

Breath alcohol testing devices have come under recent scrutiny for their inaccuracy. Indeed, according to a recent report by the New York Times, several jurisdictions have, at various times, suspended the use of these machines. In fact, judges in Massachusetts and New Jersey have thrown out nearly 30,000 test results in the past year based on various errors. Typically, the inaccuracy stems from the machine not being properly calibrated or maintained. However, there is also widespread concern that the police officers who are charged with using these devices are not properly trained on how to obtain an accurate result. In some cases, the machines returned results indicating that a driver’s BAC was 40 percent higher than it actually was.

There may be several reasons why the results of a breath alcohol test are inadmissible at trial. Anyone facing Massachusetts OUI charges should consult a dedicated criminal defense attorney to discuss their case.

Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts DUI?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a Boston drunk driving offense, contact Attorney Patrick J. Murphy for immediate assistance. Attorney Murphy is a dedicated criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling not only OWI cases but also other serious misdemeanor and felony offenses. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend your freedom against the charges that you are facing, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.

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