Court throws out convictions after forged breathalyzer documents surface; statewide breath test moratorium
On January 13, 2020, the Michigan State Police (“MSP”) declared every evidentiary breathalyzer in the State of Michigan compromised and unusable. The contractor responsible for calibrating the machines falsified certification records, making test results from those devices inadmissible in court. Although the criminal fraud investigation has only just begun, the MSP has identified 52 drunk driving cases that have been compromised, and at least 12 of those cases have already been dismissed.
The situation is dripping with irony. Someone’s scheme to avoid an afternoon of work, pretending it was already completed, created a statewide crisis that investigators, judges, attorneys, administrators, law makers, and untold others will spend countless hours fixing. Nevertheless, allowing unmonitored drunk drivers back on the road is a serious matter. Courts will not be able to mandate treatment for individuals convicted of Operating While Intoxicated (“OWI”), foregoing a critical opportunity for judicial intervention into a serious public health concern.
Most people are familiar with an intervention, where friends and family gather together to try and convince someone to accept treatment for a substance use disorder. Well, a large number of successful interventions are conducted under judicial supervision. When first detained, the suspect will be under constant observation by law enforcement. When the suspect is subsequently released on bond, he or she will be subjected to community monitoring, including regular alcohol and drug testing. Prior to sentencing, most courts conduct a substance abuse evaluation, where an experienced social worker evaluates the defendant’s substance use disorder(s), if any. Armed with the results of the evaluation, courts will order proportional and targeted treatment during sentencing. The underlying threat of a probation violation and possible jail time for non-compliance motivates compliance with treatment.