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Breathalyzer Problems Put Drunk Driving Cases In Jeopardy

BOSTON (CBS) - Several district attorneys in Massachusetts say they'll stop using breath test evidence in drunk driving cases for now because the accuracy of the breathalyzer machines is being called into question.

Prosecutors were informed in mid-March by the Office of Alcohol Testing there was an issue with tests given to several identified defendants. So far there are five cases in Essex County, two in Suffolk county, and a "handful" in Middlesex County, according to DA Marian Ryan.

But in a statement her office said it was informed by the Massachusetts State Police that "the problem may go beyond those isolated cases."

Defense attorney Armond Colombo wants a second chance for his client who pleaded guilty to drunk driving after a he blew a .15 on a breath test. It's a result he now questions. "I think the admission is based largely on the breath test result. Without the breath result in my opinion it is a triable case."

It's a problem with the calibration of the machines. Attorney Stephen Wright says his client also pleaded guilty after his drunk driving arrest in Lawrence based on the breath test. "He probably felt distrustful of the machine to begin with," Wright says. "Now tell him the machine doesn't work and it confirms what he already believes."

Prosecutors say they'll get a better handle on the extent of the problem once a full review is complete.

But it has created a complication in how they handle drunk driving cases going forward.

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