25 Investigates: State orders some breathalyzers pulled out of commission

Police may have a more difficult time making their cases against suspected drunk drivers after new state orders to remove some breathalyzers from service, 25 Investigates has learned.

Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen uncovered an order state Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett sent to police chiefs Wednesday that could create a shortage of breathalyzers at local departments.

Bennett is already investigating the breathalyzers police across the state use – known as the Alcotest 9510 – after defense attorneys raised allegations that the machines were generating inaccurate readings in hundreds of cases.

Now that the accuracy of those tests is being called into question, Bennett ordered breathalyzer machines that have been brought in to the state’s Office of Alcohol Testing for repairs or annual certification be taken out of commission until his investigation is complete.

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But state officials insist there’s no reason to distrust other breathalyzer machines currently in use at police stations.

An agency spokesman told 25 Investigates the other machines are being temporarily suspended out of “an abundance of caution.”

In a letter dated Wednesday, Bennett wrote that police officers should take any suspected drunk drivers “to a nearby station or barracks with a properly functioning machine for testing…”

Daniel Linskey, a Boston 25 News security analyst and former Boston Police superintendent-in-chief, said if police can’t get a breathalyzer test for a driver who wants one, it could compromise the case.

“OUIs are technical cases a lot of times and there's some talented attorneys who are able to use those technicalities to get people off,” said Linskey.

The state told 25 Investigates that police departments without a breathalyzer will be assigned to use machines at nearby departments.

Linskey pointed out that breathalyzers aren’t the only tool police use to prosecute drunk drivers and keep them off the roads.

He told 25 Investigates police body cameras may also be some of the best evidence in drunk driving cases, but not all departments use them.

The suspended breathalyzer machines are only expected to be out of commission for three weeks – the amount of time it will take to complete the investigation, according to Bennett’s letter.