Crime Lab Mistakes
Crime Lab Mistakes Raise Concern Over Convictions In Massachusetts
The arrests of two chemists at two separate Massachusetts crime labs earlier this year have raised a lot of questions over the validity of hundreds, if not thousands of convictions in the state. In the most recent case, a chemist is alleged to have tampered with evidence in drug cases, replacing illegal drugs with nonillegal substances according to Reuters. Apparently the chemist used the drugs for her personal consumption.
The earlier case also centered on illicit drug testing but in this instance, the chemist tainted the results of tests, compromising convictions for thousands of people. In her nine years at the lab, it was reported by the CBS Evening News that over 66,000 drug samples were handled by her. Now facing a prison term, the chemist admitted adding cocaine to samples in order to get a positive result.
Not Isolated Events
While authorities generally try to convince the public that the event is an isolated one, the fact is that cities across the nation are finding problems in their crime labs. These problems include:
- Misidentification of a controlled substance
- Lack of accreditation for lab employees
- Dirty equipment, tainting test results
- Cross contamination
- Reading test results wrong
In one case, when a DNA lab technician in a medical examiner’s office started a program to further her career, supervisors discovered several errors that raised concern. According to the New York Times, a deeper investigation revealed that the technician, who is no longer employed with the department, had committed a number of mistakes on rape kits. These mistakes included failing to find evidence of DNA, when there was evidence, and putting DNA swab envelopes in the wrong rape kit.
As a result of the find, over 800 rape cases are being re-examined and it will likely be some time before all of the errors made by the technician are revealed.
Tainted Evidence And Criminal Defense
These scandals highlight the importance of getting the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney whenever a person is accused of a crime. An experienced legal professional can investigate the chain of custody and testing procedures involving a particular piece of evidence to ensure that it is accurate and properly authenticated. If there are problems with the evidence the attorney can challenge its admission at trial.
When tainted evidence is accepted in court, innocent people can be convicted and unfairly imprisoned. Hopefully these news stories will draw greater attention to the issue of accuracy in crime labs and spur lawmakers to take action to impose greater standards of reliability.