The head of a Massachusetts crime lab office was fired after investigators found that staff withheld exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers in thousands of drunken-driving cases since 2011. The disclosure could threaten many convictions.
The head of a Massachusetts crime lab office was fired Monday after investigators found that staff withheld exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers in thousands of drunken-driving cases since 2011. The disclosure could threaten many convictions, the Boston Globe reports. State public safety officials concluded that the Office of Alcohol Testing routinely withheld documents from defense lawyers in a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results due to an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.” The documents included evidence that breath testing devices had failed to calibrate properly during the office’s certification process. The report said the office had “made serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions.”
The investigation was conducted by the state’s Executive Office of Public Safety and Security. The Office of Alcohol Testing is part of the State Police crime laboratory and oversees the state breath testing program. Director Melissa O’Meara was fired and replaced by Curtis Wood, the undersecretary for forensic science and technology. Daniel Bennett, the state’s secretary of public safety, plans to hire a retired state judge “with experience presiding over criminal cases” to help the office handle court-ordered discovery. The state launched its investigation in August amid allegations from defense lawyers that the office failed to turn over evidence that the machines may have provided hundreds of flawed results over a two-year period. “This is going to impact every single breathalyzer test case,” said defense lawyer Joseph Bernard. “Every single breath test from 2011 to the present will be impacted by this.”