Breath Alcohol Testing Errors Could Have a Major Impact on Your Case

On January 7, 2020 the Michigan State Police issued a stop order with its contractor, Intoximeters Inc., which is responsible for maintaining and auditing Michigan’s DataMaster DMTs. This could have major effects on those currently charged with operating while intoxicated (drunk driving). It could also have major effects on those already convicted of drunk driving. So, what is a DataMaster and what does the stop order mean to you?

When you are pulled over for drunk driving, you are ordinarily given a series of field sobriety tests – i.e. the horizontal nystagmus, the walk and turn, and the one-leg stand. You will also likely be asked to submit to a Preliminary Breath Test – also known as a PBT. The PBT measures the amount of alcohol content in your blood. If, from the combination of the field sobriety tests and the PBT, an officer finds probable cause to place you under arrest, you will be taken to the police station and asked to submit to a DataMaster test. (In some cases you may be taken to the hospital and asked to submit to a blood draw, but this is less common and not affected by this recent news). The DataMaster is essentially a larger and supposedly more accurate PBT. That is why its results are admissible in court, whereas the PBT results are not.

One of the most contentious issues at trial is whether the DataMaster is correctly calibrated. Defense attorneys often argue that if the DataMaster is not calibrated correctly, its results are not reliable. If the results are not reliable, how can a person be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? This news furthers that argument, and may result in cases either being reduced or thrown out completely.

In the January 7, 2020 letter, the Michigan State Police admit that there have been “performance-related issues” with Intoximeters, and that cases have been impacted by the “contractor errors.” What cases? We don’t know – yet. As of right now, the Michigan State Police have only shared this information with prosecutors. What we do know is that this news sheds even more doubt on the reliability of the DataMaster results. Individuals currently charged with drunk driving in cases where errors have occurred have a significant defense, and should speak with an experienced attorney before taking any plea deal from the prosecutor. Individuals already convicted of drunk driving in a case where an error has been determined to occur may have an opportunity to have their conviction overturned.

If you or someone you know are or have been charged with a drunk driving offense, please contact our office for a free consultation at (616) 259-8463 (Grand Rapids), or (517) 393-3000 (Okemos).

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