Police departments in New Mexico and around the country use sophisticated equipment to conduct breath tests in drunk driving cases, but the reliability of these machines became the subject of fierce debate when the New York Times published the results of a lengthy investigation in November 2019. Journalists discovered that the individuals tasked with maintaining and calibrating the testing equipment routinely neglected their duties, used unauthorized chemical solutions or provided false information to law enforcement. In New Jersey and Massachusetts, the results of more than 30,000 breath tests have been ruled inadmissible by judges.
Breath-testing equipment pulled out of service
Michigan is the latest state to become embroiled in a breath test scandal. Problems emerged when the Michigan State Police found irregularities during a routine sheriff’s department audit in January. This led to a statewide investigation that resulted in all of the state’s 203 Datamaster DMT testing machines being pulled out of service. Troopers were told to stop performing breath tests in DUI cases and collect blood samples instead. Local media outlets have reported that at least 52 drunk driving cases may be dismissed because of unreliable toxicology evidence.
Maintenance workers could face criminal charges
MSP investigators discovered that workers from the company hired to take care of the machines failed to recalibrate them on a regular basis and submitted falsified maintenance reports. They are said to have altered test results and used accurate readings from a working machine to cover up defects. Two workers are being investigated for possible criminal conduct and could face charges according to the MSP. All of the Datamaster devices have since been repaired and returned to service.
Challenging toxicology evidence in drunk driving cases
Attorneys with criminal defense experience may seek to have DUI charges dismissed when law enforcement cannot provide accurate maintenance documents for breath-testing equipment, and there are also situations where they could challenge the results of breath tests when the equipment used was working properly. Attorneys may question the reliability of toxicology evidence when police officers failed to adhere to strict testing protocols or their clients suffer from a medical condition that is known to influence breath test results.