The 284 drivers Andover police arrested for operating under the influence between 2011 and 2019 could withdraw guilty pleas or ask for new trials following last week’s ruling by the state’s highest court.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 27,000 people who pleaded guilty or were convicted on drunken driving charges filed between June 2011 and April 2019 in Massachusetts were the victims of “egregious government misconduct.” A 2017 investigation found the breathalyzer equipment used by police in Massachusetts were improperly calibrated, producing flawed test results, and that those problems that were covered up by the Massachusetts Office for Alcohol Testing.
Andover attorney Murat Erkan, who played a central role in the appeal, said the Draeger Inc.’s Alcotest 9510 was the only device approved for use in the Massachusetts during the eight-year span.
Abdover Police Lt. Frank Fitzpatrick said it was a “state issue” and referred comment to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.
Erkan represented Lindsay Hallinan, the appellant. The Beverly woman pleaded sufficient facts after a 2013 drunken driving arrest, then asked to withdraw her plea after a EOPSS investigation found OAT covered up problems and claimed lower-than-actual failure rates for Alcotest 9510.
“It’s a good day for justice in Massachusetts,” Erkan told WBUR. “We can feel some gratitude that we have a system in place where we have objective and courageous judges who are willing to sort of correct these wrongs when they occur.”
Essex County District Attorney Paul Tucker’s office is working with other DAs to notify 21,000 defendants, spokesman Glen Johnson said. Johnson said it’s too early to tell how many Essex County OUI cases would be affected, but Tucker’s office “will support requests where appropriate.”
“There have been relatively few requests for new trials because in many instances there is evidence beyond a breath test that led to the conviction,” Johnson said. “Under Massachusetts law, you can prove OUI in two independent ways, and we often do: evidence like field-sobriety tests or a breath test.”
According to the Town’s open finance Website, Andover paid Draeger Inc. $6,092 in Fiscal Year 2019. The open finance Website only has expenditures dating back to FY2019.