Earlier in April, the Massachusetts top court ruling permitted approximately 27,000 individuals to appeal for new trials if criminal cases against them involved the use of a specific breathalyzer device. The court ruling cited “extensive misconduct” at the Massachusetts State Police Office of Alcohol Testing (OAT), in their use of the Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer.
Specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court ruling applies to individuals who received breath tests with the Alcotest 9510 between June 1, 2011, and April 18, 2019, the Supreme Judicial Court said. The ruling didn’t go as far as reversing all roughly 27,000 guilty pleas and convictions, but it’s another mark on the record of the state’s crime lab, where the Office of Alcohol Testing, or OAT, is based.
“The extensive nature of OAT’s misconduct, and the inability of the defendants in the consolidated cases challenging the reliability of the Alcotest 9510 device … have resulted in the violation of the right to due process for approximately 27,000 defendants,” stated Justice Frank Gaziano in the ruling.
Subsequently, OAT began the review process of the impact of the court decision. “The Office of Alcohol Testing in recent years has implemented significant operational improvements to ensure that breathalyzer certification, case management, discovery processes and employee training are in accordance with all applicable laws and established forensic best practices. It is important to note that the OAT operating procedures described in yesterday’s decision predate those numerous and substantial reforms,” said OAT Dave Procopio said in a released statement.
In 2013, Lindsay Hallinan pleaded guilty to impaired driving after taking an Alcotest 9510 test which determined a blood alcohol level of 0.23%. According to the court, she pleaded guilty since her lawyer told her the case couldn’t be won.
Later, Hallinan rescinded her guilty plea after the tests were found to be unreliable and allegations that the OAT had a history of misconduct were uncovered in a state report. “Defendants who were accused of crime through breath tests didn’t have access to information they could have used to challenge the findings,” wrote Justice Gaziano in the ruling.
“The broad scope and nature of these violations of court orders undermined the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth, compromised thousands of prosecutions for OUI offences, and potentially resulted in inaccurate convictions,” reads the ruling. “The conclusion that OAT’s behaviour was egregiously impermissible is ‘inescapable.'”