Should Breathalyzer Tests Be Admitted as Evidence?
You may recognize Attorney Joseph D. Bernard for his role in Massachusetts’ breathalyzer ban—he was the attorney who challenged the state in Commonwealth v. Ananias, a class-action suit alleging improper administration of breathalyzer tests that led to unreliable results. The decision to ban breathalyzer evidence in courts, which came on the heels of a New Jersey decision to disallow certain breath test results as evidence, is now receiving national attention. The Weekly, a documentary series produced by the New York Times, will examine whether breathalyzers should be admissible evidence or whether they have fundamental flaws.
Guilt By Machine
For decades, breathalyzers have served as one of the most popular methods of field sobriety testing. Unlike many non-standardized tests such as the ABC test or finger-to-nose test, breath tests are assumed to be scientifically reliable—and precise. Under scrutiny from defense attorneys around the nation, that perception has begun to waver. Whether due to miscalibration, flawed procedures, or poor code, breathalyzers have been deemed flawed by judges across the nation.
The New York Times is taking on the issue in an upcoming episode of The Weekly. In an attempt to figure out once and for all whether breath tests are reliable, their investigative journalists gather information from all sides of the issue. Attorney Bernard was asked to interview given his extensive background in the area. He maintains that accreditation is the only way to ensure proper use of breathalyzers. But, is it enough to achieve a sufficient standard of accuracy?
Catch the Full Episode on November 3rd.
You can catch Attorney Bernard’s interview on episode 16 of The Weekly, which is shown on FX and Hulu. Like Attorney Bernard, the reporters leading the investigation have experience investigating breathalyzer cases. They will distill the evidence in a 30-minute episode that shares both their process and their findings so viewers can judge the issue for themselves. Though breathalyzers are once more in use in courtrooms across Massachusetts, that doesn’t mean they’ve been proven reliable. It just means they’ve met the state’s rules for admissible evidence based on the challenges brought in Commonwealth v Ananias. At least for now, state prosecutors have one of their favorite tools back on their side.
Catch up with the history of Commonwealth v. Ananias with our timeline below.
- Sept. 2016: Update on Draeger 9510 Breathalyzer Litigation
- May 2017: Judge Brennan Extends Timeframe for Presumptively Excluded Breath Test Results
- Aug 2017: District Attorney’s Office Issues Statewide Moratorium on Use of Breath Test Results
- Aug 2018: Massachusetts Prosecutors Agree Not to Introduce Draeger 9510 Breath Tests
- Nov. 2018:Commonwealth vs. Ananias Massachusetts Breath Test Litigation Continued to Nov. 26th
- Feb. 2019: Judge Brennan Bans Breathalyzers in OUI Cases in Massachusetts
- Apr. 2019: Breath Test Litigation Continues
- Jul. 2019: Commonwealth’s Motion to Admit Breath Tests Allowed for all Alcotest 9510 Machines Calibrated and Certified on or After April 18, 2019
Can your OUI be re-tried thanks to unreliable breath test results? Contact us online or call (413) 831-5579 to schedule your free case evaluation.