Crime Labs Notoriously Unregulated, Error-Prone

The New York Times recently reported that the city’s medical examiner’s office is launching a review of DNA evidence in some 800 sexual assault cases where the samples may have been overlooked or mishandled. dnamarkers.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that this situation does not mark an isolated incident. Unfortunately, crime labs are notoriously unregulated, and such evidence has resulted in numerous errors and false convictions over the years.

Despite this fact, DNA evidence remains a critical component of many criminal prosecutions. It’s also a key interrogation tactic used by law enforcement. In order to pressure a confession, police will often inform the accused that DNA or other forensic evidence has been used to positively link that person to the crime. To many defendants, this can seem like daunting evidence to overcome.

To be sure, it’s not an easy task to refute such evidence, but as the numerous incidents of crime lab error pile up across the country, experienced defense attorneys are tasked with challenging that evidence.

In the New York case, investigators have so far uncovered nearly 30 cases in which a technician did not detect biological evidence when it did in fact exist. In more than half a dozen of those cases, full DNA profiles were found.

While there is no evidence at this point that anyone was wrongly convicted as a result of those errors, it is not beyond the realm of possibility. That particular crime lab, which employs nearly 50 technicians, is responsible for handling some 1,500 sexual assault cases every single year. That means more than half of its annual caseload has been called into question. That’s a huge margin of error for evidence that is often held up in court as irrefutable proof of guilt.

Another recent incident of crime lab errors unfolded in Boston, where a technician responsible for testing evidence in some 34,000 drug cases leading to tens of thousands of convictions was found to have been falsifying and mishandling evidence throughout her nine-year tenure. What’s more, it turned out that she didn’t have the Master’s degree in chemistry that she had claimed. Almost every case she was involved in has since been called into question.

It would be easy to disregard these instances as isolated examples of rouge technicians. But there is more.

In Iowa, a review of criminal cases that relied heavily on fingerprint evidence has revealed that analysis of at least nine cases handled by a technician were riddled with errors. That worker had been with the agency for 16 years. So far, again there are no known false convictions, but with that lab handling 150,000 cases every year, it’s quite possible numerous convictions could be challenged as a result of this revelation.

And then there are the widespread FBI crime lab problems, uncovered last year in a series of stories penned by reporters at The Washington Post. It appears that thousands of criminal cases, both at the state and federal level, relied a great deal on forensic technician testimony that was exaggerated or forensic evidence that later proved false. In fact, these cases did result in hundreds if not thousands of convictions for serious crimes such as murder, rape, robbery and other major felonies.

As a result, the U.S. Justice Department announced last summer that it would be conducting a national review of all the cases handled by the FBI’s hair and fibers unit prior to 2000. That’s more than 21,000 cases. Officials are attempting to determine whether any of the convictions obtained as a result of this evidence were wrongful. That investigation is ongoing.

The fact is, DNA and other forensic evidence can be tough to refute, as it’s complex, technical and interpreted by those with advanced degrees.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers however will not be intimidated. We will work to ensure that any evidence against you is challenged from every angle possible.

If you are charged with a crime in Fort Lauderdale, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.

Additional Resources:
The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs, Jan. 14, 2013, By Justin Peters, Slate.com

More Blog Entries:
Fort Lauderdale Criminal Cases Often Rely on Cell Phone Data, Dec. 1, 2012, Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog

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