There are various tools that police use when deciding if a person is driving under the influence of alcohol. Field sobriety tests are typically conducted, but a breathalyzer is usually seen as the ultimate test. If it shows that a person has a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.08% or higher, no other evidence matters. This BAC is enough to secure a conviction. However, it turns out that Massachusetts breathalyzer readings have long been untrustworthy.
You’ve probably seen the headlines lately. Variations ranging from “Faulty Breath Machines Call 27,000 OUI Convictions Into Question” to “Police Misconduct Means OUI Charges Can Be Thrown Out” have been circulating widely. As with most things in the law, though, the specifics aren’t as straightforward as you might think. Here’s what you need to know — particularly if you have a Massachusetts OUI conviction on your record.
Massachusetts Breathalyzer Results Untrustworthy
As early as June 2011, the breath tests utilized by Massachusetts police officers may have been inaccurate. This fact may have gone unnoticed by the general public, but a lawsuit forced police to release documents showing that “failed calibration” could have resulted in inaccurate readings. However, these documents indicated that only 11 out of 2,000 worksheets showed potential problems.
Such a failure is disheartening enough. Even one person convicted of a crime they didn’t commit is a travesty. However, an investigation in 2017 revealed that police withheld evidence showing that the problems with breath tests between June 2011 and April 2019 were more pervasive than originally believed. These tech failures combined with police misconduct mean that around 27,000 operating under the influence (OUI) convictions could be thrown out.
What Does This Mean for Those Convicted of OUI?
For a person who allegedly failed a breath test between June 2011 and April 2019, there is no automatic reprieve. While we know that police hid evidence and that the Alcotest 9510 breath tests may be inaccurate, the convictions of 27,000 individuals will not be automatically overturned. This is somewhat understandable since many OUI convictions are based on evidence other than breathalyzer machines.
However, there is a solid chance that you can have such a conviction removed from your record. The state is allowing individuals convicted during the relevant time period to request a new trial. What will be different this time around? Everything. That’s because the breath test results from the faulty machines cannot be used in your new trial. Without such evidence to support their case, prosecutors will likely have a difficult time proving guilt.
How Can You Overturn a Massachusetts OUI Conviction?
Some people may think there’s no point in trying to vacate an old OUI conviction. After all, they may have already “served their time” and completed all necessary requirements. However, fighting back against an unjust conviction might still be the right move. Not only could this result in a clean criminal record, but it may help you avoid the more serious consequences of repeat offenses.
For instance, envision a scenario where John Doe refused a breath test on a third OUI offense. This can result in a five-year suspension of his license. However, what happens if an earlier OUI conviction is suddenly removed? In this case, the suspension for refusal will drop to three years instead of five. This is far from the only potential benefit of appealing a prior conviction. As such, anyone in this situation should understand the appeals process:
- Speak with an attorney: A Massachusetts OUI lawyer can review your case and help you understand if vacating your sentence is possible or likely.
- Submit a motion: To appeal an OUI on your record, a motion must be submitted for a new trial or to vacate your plea.
- Fight the charge: If your motion is approved, your OUI case is officially reopened. This means the state will have to prove its case again — this time without faulty breath tests.
So, what are the chances that your Massachusetts OUI conviction will be vacated? This depends on several factors. It essentially comes down to evidence. This means the state will need to have witnesses (e.g., arresting officers) who can testify. Since one-quarter of officers leave their departments within three years of starting, this might be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
Even if an officer is still around, though, it’s unlikely that they remember your case clearly if it has been a while. And even if they do, the state will have to prove that you’re guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. With all these difficulties in their way, there’s a solid chance that you can vacate your OUI conviction in Massachusetts.