The Massachusetts legal system has had a fraught relationship with breathalyzers for years that has prompted many to question if breathalyzers are accurate. However, the answer to the question “are breathalyzers accurate” isn’t straightforward. The short answer is: breathalyzer test accuracy depends on the circumstances. In theory, they should be perfectly accurate. In practice, the full answer is more complicated than that.

Factors Relating to Inaccuracy

Breathalyzer tests, when stored, cleaned, and administered correctly, will produce accurate results. The accuracy of Massachusetts breathalyzer tests is often called into question because of concerns related to storage, cleaning, and administration.

Defendants and defense attorneys have been fighting the use of breathalyzer test results as evidence in OUI/DUI cases for several years, with a 2017 ruling finding that the way the state maintained the tests was inaccurate and that tests taken between 2012 and 2014 were unreliable.

The devices used to administer breathalyzer tests are at risk of software malfunctions which can produce unreliable results. Another potential cause of failure is the cleaning process used for the testing devices. Overly thorough cleaning protocols are liable to damage an integral part of the breathalyzer apparatus. Further, tests must be administered by individuals who are appropriately trained and certified. When breathalyzer tests are administered by persons without the relevant certification, the results cannot be trusted to be accurate and must be regarded as void.

There have been concerns raised regarding the legitimacy of investigations into test accuracy. When the state was trying to determine if breathalyzers are accurate, the Office of Alcohol Testing was said to have intentionally withheld the results of hundreds of court-mandated calibration and certification tests. This means, in essence, that the OAT conducted tests on the breathalyzer apparatuses to determine their efficacy and then withheld results that indicated the potential for unreliable breathalyzer test outcomes.

Factors Relating to Accuracy

However, many breathalyzer tests can produce accurate results. When a breathalyzer testing apparatus is maintained appropriately and the test is administered correctly by a certified individual, the results will be considered valid. Despite their underlying reliability, most Massachusetts District Attorneys have stopped using breathalyzer results as evidence in OUI/DUI cases altogether. This is due to the developing trend of OUI/DUI convictions getting overturned due to the prosecution’s case relying heavily, if not entirely, on an untrustworthy breathalyzer test result.

Regardless of your district attorney’s stance on breathalyzers, it is still possible to be convicted of an OUI/DUI charge without breathalyzer evidence. If you’re charged with an OUI or a DUI in Massachusetts, you need an experienced local lawyer to represent you. Attorney James Milligan has over 20 years of experience practicing exclusively OUI and DUI defense. Contact him today.

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