Massachusetts residents who were convicted of driving while under the influence of alcohol between 2011 and 2019 may soon have a chance to clear their records. Media outlets have reported that letters explaining the procedure for seeking a new trial have been sent to about 27,000 Bay State residents who either entered guilty pleas to OUI charges or were convicted of drunk driving in court. The letters were sent because the Office of Alcohol Testing failed to properly maintain the machines used by law enforcement agencies to conduct breath tests.

Misconduct and negligence

The series of events that led to the letters being sent began in October 2015 when a report from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security revealed that the OAT failed to regularly recalibrate breath-testing devices and orchestrated a cover up. The report prompted state officials to fire the head of the OAT and led a judge to ban the introduction of breath test results in OUI cases until more robust maintenance protocols were put into place. That ban has since been lifted.

Breath test results thrown out

Prosecutors reacted to the scandal by negotiating a deal with drunk driving defense attorneys that excluded breath-test results in about 35,000 OUI cases. The deal gave individuals convicted of driving drunk the chance to seek a new trial if BAC readings from breath tests convinced them to plead guilty or were used against them in court. However, the deal does not apply to all OUI cases. Certain repeat drunk driving offenders and impaired motorists who caused serious injury or death are excluded.

Toxicology evidence is often unreliable

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may question the reliability of toxicology evidence in drunk driving cases even when the machines used were in perfect working order. Police officers must follow strict procedures when conducting breath tests, and attorneys could seek to have BAC readings excluded if arrest reports suggest that these rules were not followed. Attorneys could also challenge toxicology results if their clients suffer from diabetes, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or one of the many other medical conditions that are known to influence breath-test results.