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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Casts Nearly 30,000 DUI Convictions in Doubt Due to ‘Egregious Government Misconduct’

by Jordan Arizmendi

The Supreme Judicial Court of ­Massachusetts upheld a ruling concluding that between 2011 and 2019, breathalyzers used by the government were improperly calibrated and maintained. Commonwealth v. Hallinan, 207 N.E.3d 465 (Mass. 2023). More astonishingly, according to the opinion, because of government misconduct, an estimated 27,000 people found guilty of DUI can either withdraw their guilty pleas or have their convictions revisited.

The biggest Massachusetts’ mistake since trading away The Babe in 1920, all started with Lindsay Hallinan’s case. Back in 2013, Hallinan got pulled over, and when she blew into the Draeger Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer, her blood alcohol level registered at .23. She knew the reading was not correct, though she figured she had no other course of action than to admit to sufficient facts the next month.

After her plea, authorities discovered that some of the breathalyzer machines had not been properly calibrated to ensure accuracy. An investigation by the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (“EOPSS”) found that the state Office for Alcohol Testing (“OAT”) covered the machine’s inaccuracies and claimed the rate of failure was actually a lot lower than it really was.

The Supreme Judicial Court in Hallinan stated that the breathalyzer coverup “undermined the criminal justice system in the Commonwealth, compromised thousands of prosecutions for OUI offenses, and potentially resulted in inaccurate convictions.”

The 46-page decision chronicles the myriad instances that the state police lab withheld records from defendants in direct violation of court orders. The opinion also makes clear that the violations were encouraged by those running the lab.

The 2019 EOPSS report found that the Massachusetts State Police had a history of intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence, disregarding court orders, and other blatant misconduct. Here is an excerpt from that report: “[T]he EOPSS report highlighted that OAT scientists responding to discovery requests were instructed not to provide failed worksheets. If a scientist included such a worksheet in the discovery package, O’Meara would insist that the failed worksheet be removed, because she considered it to be nonresponsive.”

Melissa O’Meara was the head of the state OAT. She was fired from her position the very day, back in 2017, that the scathing report came to light. Before her firing, O’Meara was doing everything humanly possible to keep the magnitude of her department’s failure from getting out – and with good reason as the Hallinan Court noted: “The scathing EOPSS report highlights OAT’s disturbing pattern of intentionally withholding exculpatory evidence year after year, dating back at least as early as June 2011. The report characterizes OAT’s discovery practices as ‘dysfunctional,’ guided by ‘serious errors of judgment,’ and ‘enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded….’ [T]he conclusion that OAT’s behavior was egregiously impermissible is ‘inescapable.’”

In conclusion, the Hallinan Court cast doubt on approximately 27,000 DUI convictions as a result of the government misconduct, instructing: “defendants who were convicted after trial or pleaded guilty to an OUI offense, where a breath test had been conducted using an Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer last calibrated and certified prior to April 18, 2019, are entitled to a conclusive presumption that the first prong of the Scott-Ferrara test [collateral attack on sentence based on claim guilty plea was not knowing or voluntary because of evidence not available to defendant at time of plea] is satisfied, and the existence of egregious government misconduct that antedated the defendant’s plea has been established. See Scott, 467 Mass. at 346. By extension, any breath test conducted using an Alcotest 9510 device last calibrated and certified during that time period must be excluded in any pending or future prosecutions. Where a defendant successfully moves for a new trial due to OAT’s misconduct, and thereafter is convicted, so long as the defendant’s original sentence was legal, the new sentence will be capped at no more than the original sentence. If the defendant’s original sentence was illegal, the new sentence will not be limited to the initial disposition.”  

Sources: techdirt.com; salemnews.com

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