8 Alpena cases reviewed amid breath-test questions

News Photo by Julie Riddle An Alpena Police Department officer holds a Lifeloc breath test, used to unofficially determine blood-alcohol content at the scene of a traffic stop. Official breath tests at the county jail have been suspended as the Michigan State Police investigates possible fraud by the vendor responsible for servicing the instruments.

ALPENA — Faulty breathalyzer tests may impact a handful of Alpena County cases, the Michigan State Police says.

The State Police last week put a temporary halt to the use of DataMasters, the official breath-testing device used to provide an official blood-alcohol content reading after an arrest.

Alleging possible fraud on the part of the company administering the tests, the State Police said the devices in several Michigan counties, including Alpena County, failed to pass inspections in November and gave unreliable data for tests administered for an eight-week period.

The cases in question are not necessarily the only impaired driving stops to have been made during the period in question. Traffic stops in which drug use is suspected require a blood draw, as will drivers who refuse a breath test. Cases supported by a blood draw are not affected by the improperly calibrated instrument.

There is no accusation of wrongdoing toward the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office, where the DataMaster is housed at the county jail.

Eight tests administered between Nov. 26 and Dec. 22 were administered using the device, according to Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black.

The cases in question will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The lack of a dependable BAC reading does not mean an automatic dismissal of charges, the prosecutor said.

Any arrest for drunken driving will incorporate other signs of impairment, such as erratic driving or the inability to pass standard sobriety tests, as the eight cases are evaluated.

Until MSP resolves concerns with the DataMasters, anyone stopped for impaired driving will need to be tested using a blood draw.

A DataMaster test, administered at jail, gives an official blood-alcohol content reading that can be used in court. Breath tests administered at the scene of a traffic stop, in conjunction with standard sobriety tests, offer data that can be recorded in an arrest record but is not admissible in court.

Drivers refusing breath tests will lose their license for a year, Black said.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.


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