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Problematic breathalyzer issues surface once again

It seems that it's always bad news when the devices used to measure motorists' blood alcohol level in DUI cases come under a public spotlight.

And we might reasonably argue that the occasional black eye received by so-called breathalyzers is far from being a bad thing.

Certainly drivers who were convicted on drunk driving charges in Colorado or elsewhere based on false BAC readouts owing to improperly calibrated machines don't mind seeing breathalyzer accuracy coming in for some strong scrutiny.

We most recently noted the stark downsides for innocent motorists who were wrongly convicted of a DUI offense, pointing out in a March 20 blog post the "severe adverse consequences resulting from the displayed BAC readouts issuing from [questionable] breathalyzers."

That same story line is now being trotted out for some front-page treatment in another state, where a judge has determined that many hundreds of DUI convictions must be looked at anew owing to a lack of assured breathalyzer reliability.

The problem across Massachusetts over a prolonged period (more than two years), stated the judge, was that there was a complete lack of written protocols governing the use, administration, testing and calibration of hundreds of breathalyzers used by police officers in drinking-related stops.

And that, the court concluded, was a fatal flaw rendering every DUI conviction obtained over that sustained period questionable. All such cases must be retried, with instructions to trial courts and juries that the breath tests that were administered cannot be deemed to have been reliable.

One estimate considering the number of potentially relevant DUI matters posits that more than 20,000 cases might need to be reconsidered.

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