Use of breathalyzer tests in prosecutions to resume in Hampden County
June 30, 2022 -Springfield- Beginning July 1, 2022, the use of breath tests, commonly known as a breathalyzer, as evidence in criminal prosecutions will resume in Hampden County.
Arrests occurring through local and state police departments will again involve the admission of breath test evidence in cases of individuals charged with the operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, where appropriate and lawful and at the discretion of the Hampden District Attorney’s Office.
The admissibility of breath test evidence in OUI cases was suspended for the better part of eleven years, since 2011, through both voluntary suspensions by district attorneys and by order of the court. These suspensions came after discovery that the Massachusetts Office of Alcohol Testing engaged in practices of deception, disregarding court ordered discovery, and intentionally distorting evidence. After a law suit was filed, the plaintiffs who sued the Massachusetts Office of Alcohol Testing, in conjunction with the Commonwealth’s district attorneys, and the trial judge, worked to find a resolution that addressed the issues created by the practices of the Office of Alcohol Testing.
Since 2019, Hampden District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni enacted a voluntary suspension of the use of breath test evidence at trial in OUI cases. District Attorney Gulluni, and many of his colleagues, were firmly opposed to reintroducing breath test evidence until the appropriate reforms regarding transparency and accountability occurred within the Massachusetts Office of Alcohol Testing.
Starting in 2019, the Office of Alcohol Testing began implementing significant reforms in its discovery and communication practices. The reforms were brought about through a negotiated settlement with the plaintiff’s and the state-wide district attorney team.
This process of negotiation and cooperation resulted in a joint agreement between the state-wide team of representatives of the district attorneys’ offices and the plaintiffs. The court adopted this joint agreement between all parties to ensure transparency and accountability from OAT. One of the significant reforms that the court ordered is the hiring of an ombudsman at OAT to monitor the reforms and practices as ordered and implemented over the past several years.
With these recent developments and the implementation of the joint agreement, DA Gulluni is confident that the flaws at OAT have been addressed and the system around breath test evidence is reliable, objective, and fair. Specifically, the appointment of an impartial, court appointed ombudsman to oversee the Office of Alcohol Testing’s compliance with the reforms, ensures the fairness that is required to reestablish the use of breath test evidence in Hampden County.