Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court: Breathalyzer Admissible Evidence in OUI Cases

Last month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) affirmed the admissibility of breathalyzer tests in driving while impaired cases. Breathalyzers are used to measure the Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of a person and are routinely administered in roadside tests across the country where the police suspect a driver may be impaired by alcohol.

Like all other states, Massachusetts does not allow impaired drivers on the Commonwealth’s roads and sets the BAC cutoff at 0.08%. While it is ultimately up to a court to convict a person of Operating Under the Influence (OUI) in the Commonwealth, breathalyzers are typically treated as conclusive evidence of intoxication by most juries. The observations of the arresting officers and the results of a field sobriety test are other forms of evidence generally used in OUI cases.

In this particular case, Commonwealth v. Camblin, the issue before the Court dealt with a new type of breathalyzer, the Alcotest. The defendant in this case had been convicted by a jury of Operating Under the Influence, and part of the evidence used against him in court included the results of the Alcotest breathalyzer. Because the Alcotest utilizes new technology, the defendant and his Massachusetts criminal defense attorney appealed the lower court’s decision, arguing that the technology had not been rigorously tested enough to be deemed reliable in a Massachusetts court.  

Different from other breathalyzers, the Alcotest has a “dual sensor” used to measure a driver’s BAC. The two sensors utilize “infrared spectroscopy and electrochemical fuel cell sampling to analyze alcohol content in a breath sample,” according to the SJC. Both sensors independently test the driver’s BAC and if there is a significant deviation between the two readings, the breathalyzer will abort the test and not provide any BAC result. The technology used in this dual-sensor breathalyzer is new, and the defendant in the case argued that because the technology was new, it was untested, and therefore should not have been admissible against him in his OUI case.

The SJC disagreed with the arguments advanced by the Massachusetts criminal defense attorney representing Camblin. The SJC held that the Alcotest met the “specific performance criteria” for evidence to be admissible in court. First, the Alcotest is approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which is responsible for certifying breathalyzers in Massachusetts. Further, the SJC noted, the Alcotest is certified by European regulators which have even more exacting requirements for breathalyzers than their American counterpart.

Contact a Massachusetts Lawyer Specializing in Operating Under the Influence Laws

Operating Under the Influence is a serious crime in Massachusetts. A driver convicted of an OUI can lose his or her license, pay a hefty fine, and even serve time in jail, depending on the severity of the crime. If you have been charged with Operating Under the Influence in the Commonwealth, then you should reach out to a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts with knowledge of OUI laws and experience in litigating impaired driving cases can help you understand your legal options.