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Michigan State Police suspends contract with breathalyzer company, could impact drunk driving cases

police officer issues breathalyzer on citizen
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The Michigan State Police has suspended a contract with the company that handles the state's breathalyzer testing devices due to "performance-related issues.” ";

Updated January 16 at 4:30 p.m.:

The Michigan State Police has identified at least 52 drunk driving cases that could have been affected by breathalyzers that were not properly maintained. That’s according to testimony Thursday in a state Senate hearing.

Michigan State Police Colonel Joe Gaspar also told the Senate Judiciary Committee the department may file fraud charges against a state contractor.

“I want to emphasize that we are committed to conducting a thorough and complete investigation into this matter, and if we can prove criminal acts occurred, we will pursue criminal charges against those responsible,” Gaspar said.

The Michigan State Police has identified seven specific instances where problems resulted in the dismissal of impaired driving charges.

Defense attorney Michael Nichols also testified. He says it should not be the job of the state police to process breathalyzer results.

“You’ve got to serve two masters – one is the science when you’re doing the blood-alcohol analysis or inspecting one of these devices," he said. "It’s supposed to be about science. And other is the fact that no one can ever forget that their paycheck comes from a law enforcement agency.”

The MSP is recommending local departments rely on blood draws instead of breathalyzers until its audit of another 203 untested breathalyzer units is complete.

Updated January 15 at 4:45 p.m.:

The Michigan State Police recently began inspecting all of the state's 203 Datamaster DMT breathalyzers to ensure each is properly calibrated and serviced. One of the goals is to unearth possible problems with breathalyzer test results.

These efforts have Michigan prosecutors and criminal defense attorney working to figure out implications for pending drunk driving cases and prior convictions.

Shanon Banner, manager of the MSP's Public Affairs Section, said it could take up to 90 days to complete the inspection.

Banner said the MSP will notify prosecutors about any problems with a breathalyzer in their county so they can determine the potential impact on their county's drunk driving cases.

"We'll need to get information first as to what the precise nature of the problem is and what the scope of it is," said Bill Vailliencourt, President of the Prosecuting Attorney Association of Michigan. "And at this point it is too early to know since we just found about this recently."

Mike Nichols is a criminal defense attorney, based in East Lansing. He said he's been getting "an explosion" of phone calls and emails from clients and other defense attorneys.

"Prosecutors will hopefully identify a certain number of cases that merit review. We're going to do that on our own here at our office," Nichols said. "It's going to be a daunting task."

Original post, January 14, 2020: 

The Michigan State Police has suspended a contract with the company that handles the state's breathalyzer testing devices. The MSP is telling local police and prosecutors there may be a problem with breathalyzer test results.

Last week the MSP informed prosecutors and police departments that it put a stop order on the contract with the company that services all 203 Datamaster DMT evidential breath alcohol-testing instruments.

According to a state police statement, some of the vendor’s certification records may have been falsified. The MSP is investigating potential fraud. 

Those machines are now sidelined as the MSP inspects and verifies each instrument to ensure it is properly calibrated.   

The agency is concerned the "performance-related issues" under review could affect drunk driving cases.

While the investigation continues, the state police recommend police agencies utilize blood draws rather than breath tests to establish evidence of drunk driving.

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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