“Operator error” caused problems with breathalyzers

Issue had led some prosecutors to stop using test as evidence in OUI cases

BOSTON (WWLP) – Operator error, and not malfunctioning equipment, is to blame for mistakes in breathalyzer tests, a state review has found. Prosecutors in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and several other Massachusetts counties temporarily suspended the use of breathalyzer tests as evidence in OUI cases as the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security conducted their review.

The office went over some 39,000 test results, and found that in less than 150 cases, operator error caused the machines to be improperly calibrated. In those cases, the office says that the machines were calibrated within the manufacturer’s acceptable range, but not the more stringent .074 and .086 range required in Massachusetts for valid results.

They found that back in 2011, the state did not properly instruct the manufacturer, Draeger, to customize its machines in order to meet the state’s higher standards. As a result, individual departments had to go through an extra step to validate results. Draeger has since agreed to update the breathalyzers with a software patch in order to eliminate the possible error.

In the meantime, the state is now in communication with district attorney’s offices regarding the cases that may be affected.

“The Executive Office of Public Safety is currently working with the appropriate district attorney to identify each individual whose breath test was affected by operator error, so that we can ensure the operator errors didn’t unfairly impact any OUI prosecutions; and so that prosecutions of those suspected of operating under the influence can go forward based on all of the available evidence, including breath tests,” Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett said.

Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni had said that nine OUI cases in Hampden County may have been impacted by a breathalyzer error.

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