Mass. High Court Orders Hearing on Alcotest Breathalyzer’s Reliability

By | June 16, 2015

Massachusetts’ highest court has ordered a hearing on the reliability of breathalyzer device Alcotest 7110 MK III-C in a drunk driving case where the defendant — along with 61 other defendants in similar cases — challenged the accuracy of test results from this particular breathalyzer model.

The state’s Supreme Judicial Court ruled on June 12 that because breath test evidence, at its core, is scientific evidence, the reliability of the Alcotest breath test result has to be established before evidence could be admitted.

The case involves motorist Kirk Camblin, who was convicted in the district court of operating a vehicle while under the influence of liquor (OUI) on the grounds that alcohol affected his ability to drive safely and that he operated the vehicle with a blood alcohol percentage of 0.08 or greater when tested with Alcotest 7110 MK III-C on April 27, 2008.

But before his trial, in June 2010, Camblin — along with 61 other defendants in other OUI cases pending in the district court — moved to exclude admission of breath test evidence derived from the use of Alcotest 7110 MK III-C, manufactured by Draeger Safety Diagnostics Inc.

In their motion, they argued that the device’s source code — the code written to control the functioning of computer software — as well as other deficiencies have made the breath test results produced by Alcotest 7110 MK III-C “scientifically unreliable.” The defendants also argued that Alcotest’s results are unreliable because the device does not test exclusively for ethanol and that the calibration tests performed do not operate to validate the accuracy of the Alcotest.

The judge specially assigned to these cases had denied their motion without a hearing, ruling that the breath test results are admissible by statute in Massachusetts. But the Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, noting in its June 12 ruling that Alcotest 7110 MK III-C is the first “dual-sensoric” breath test machine that analyzes a subject’s breath by an infrared test and a fuel cell test and that courts have not considered the reliability of its source code.

“The defendant was entitled to have the merits of his challenges considered and the reliability of the Alcotest breath test result established before the evidence of that test result could be admitted in evidence against him,” the Supreme Judicial Court stated.

“The order denying the defendant’s motion to exclude evidence of the defendant’s Alcotest breath test result is vacated, and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the Supreme Judicial Court ruled. “In particular, a judge of the District Court is to conduct a hearing on the defendant’s motion to exclude, and is to file with this court the judge’s findings and rulings based on that hearing within 90 days of the date of the rescript.”

The case is Commonwealth Vs. Kirk P. Camblin, SJC-11774, Middlesex. February 5, 2015 – June 12, 2015.

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