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Breaking down the Mass. breathalyzer court ruling — and what comes next

Person taking a breathalyzer test. (Getty)
Person taking a breathalyzer test. (Getty)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's daily morning newsletter, WBUR Today. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here

Gov. Maura Healey’s new portrait is looking very Gardner Museum-y.

Here’s what’s in our picture today:

Twenty-seven thousand. That’s how many people may be eligible for a do-over after pleading guilty or being convicted of drunk driving in Massachusetts. It’s due to a new ruling by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court in a case that has been simmering for years. WBUR’s Deborah Becker reports that the state’s top court found that officials covered up the extent of the problems with the breathalyzer machine used in Massachusetts.

  • Which cases? The ruling applies to all cases between June 1, 2011 and April 18, 2019 in which results were used from the Draeger Alcotest 9510 breathalyzer — an estimated 27,000 cases.
  • Wait, so were all of the results faulty? No. In fact, there weren’t calibration issues with the breathalyzer tests in most of the cases. However, since investigators later found that the state crime lab withheld evidence showing the problems were more widespread than they said, Justice Frank Gaziano wrote that all of those defendants had their due process rights violated.
  • What now? Those who pled guilty or were convicted of DUI based on breathalyzer evidence can withdraw guilty pleas or ask for new trials. (The state has more info on that process here.) In other words, their cases won’t be automatically dropped, but those breathalyzer results can’t be used in any future prosecutions.
  • Zoom out: As of 2021, most Massachusetts district attorneys had stopped using breathalyzer test results due to reliability concerns.

Boston officials will begin removing tents from the area around Mass. Ave and Melnea Cass Boulevard again next week. Mayor Michelle Wu’s office says they choose to let the encampments be during the winter due to concerns about the wellbeing of unsheltered individuals.

The Healey administration is considering asking the state government’s major vendors to disclose their carbon emissions. WBUR’s Barbara Moran reports it’s an idea modeled after a recently proposed rule by President Joe Biden’s administration to encourage more climate-friendly business.

  • How it works: The rule would apply to a diverse array of contractors used by the state for everything from cement and steel, to food and water. Massachusetts’ climate chief Melissa Hoffer told Moran the rule would ask companies about its current carbon footprint and plans to reduce emissions in the future. “It’s something that we’re reviewing carefully,” she said.

Boston’s newly dubbed Melvin H. King South End Academy (formerly the McKinley schools) didn’t just get a new name yesterday. Students also got a promise from Wu that the city will soon renovate the aging four-school complex, as WBUR’s Max Larkin reports here.

  • Looking ahead: Wu said the renovation planning will begin with an “inclusive design process” starting in the coming year.
  • Looking back: The fact that the schools are still standing is in part thanks to their new namesake. David Russell, a veteran McKinley educator, said King forcefully spoke out against a BPS plan to demolish the complex in 2016. “A colleague of mine and I had the same thought at one point; we looked at each other and said, ‘We’re not going anywhere,'” Russell recalled.
  • Speaking of renovations: Wu announced yesterday that the city is looking to “rebuild and reimagine” White Stadium in Franklin Park by leasing out the 78-year-old stadium to a private operator. The 10-year lease would give the operator license to use the stadium for a set number of events each year, if they agree to rehabilitate the stadium for BPS athletics and park visitors.

P.S.— Both the Bruins and Celtics are now headed back down south for Game 6s, after failing to close out their series at home. Following last night’s overtime loss, the Bruins will try again Friday night to clinch their series against the Florida Panthers. Meanwhile, the Celtics have their own away Game 6 tonight against the Atlanta Hawks. (Sorry for the inconvenience, Janet Jackson fans.)


Nik DeCosta-Klipa Newsletter Editor
Nik DeCosta-Klipa is the newsletter editor for WBUR.



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