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Report: State crime lab withheld pro-defense evidence in OUI cases

A report by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety found that the State Police Office of Alcohol Testing routinely failed to provide pro-defense information to defendants' attorneys as is required by the law and constitution.

The 126-page report states that the Office of Alcohol Testing "made serious errors in judgment" during the discovery phase of criminal trials. During this phase, the prosecution is required to provide notice of its entire case, along with any evidence they have that could help the defense's case.

Prosecutors are not supposed to win convictions through trickery or deceit. Instead, they are to pursue justice in an adversarial process where neither side is surprised by the state's case. Pro-defense evidence, often called "exculpatory evidence" must be turned over to the defendant's attorney as part of due process of law. The U.S. Supreme Court held this in the 1963 case Brady v. Maryland, so pro-defense evidence is sometimes called "Brady evidence."

The errors in judgment made by the Office of Alcohol Testing "were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded, which frequently failed to seek out or take advantage of available legal resources, and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions," reads the report.

The technical leader of the OAT has now been terminated, according to a state spokesperson. The state undersecretary for Forensic Science and Technology will assume oversight of the Office until new policies can be put into place.

The issue came to light because defense lawyers noticed that the OAT was withholding key evidence in the form of maintenance and calibration records for breath testing machines. Attorneys representing approximately 750 defendants had called into question the accuracy of Draeger 9510 Alcotest breath testing machines, which were introduced into use in Massachusetts in 2011.

Evidence of improper calibration or maintenance can be crucial to an OUI defendant's case because breath test results can be inaccurate unless the machines are properly cared for and the tests are administered correctly.

"This impacts every single breath test that was ever conducted on that machine," said one attorney. "This is a colossal issue."

The state was quick to point out that the report does not actually claim that any breath tests were inaccurate or that any machines were calibrated incorrectly. Instead, the report only made the case that the OAT had violated the constitutional rights of defendants by refusing them the evidence they had a right to see.

The issue could affect thousands of OUI convictions. If you have been found guilty of OUI in recent years, it may be well worth your time to contact a defense attorney now.

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