Those facing criminal charges have the right to have their cases handled fairly and without bias against them. This is particularly true when it comes to the handling of evidence that can be used to prove their innocence. Unfortunately, a number of crime labs across the country have been found to mishandle evidence. At least one of these labs has potentially affected the outcomes of criminal cases in Colorado. Evidence mishandling there may have led to the wrongful conviction of any number of innocent people. In fact, the National Registry of Exonerations states that official misconduct is cited in nearly 60 percent of exonerations in homicide cases.
Lab misconduct widespread, difficult to regulate
Due to the popularity of television shows featuring criminal forensics, many people believe that crime labs are high-tech facilities staffed by seasoned experts who are incapable of error or corruption. In numerous cases, the opposite has been proven true. According to Business Insider, more than 100 crime labs throughout the United States were found to have major discrepancies in laboratory operations and in the handling of evidence. These included one lab in which a supervisor was caught switching illegal narcotics used as evidence with over-the-counter drugs, and another in which a technician stole cocaine from a crime lab. In both of these cases, numerous criminal trials were affected after the evidence was tampered with.
Even the credibility of the FBI’s crime lab has been questioned. A 2012 report showed that FBI forensic analysts improperly handled hair samples and manipulated evidence to gain convictions.
The Innocence Project states that almost half of all DNA exonerations involved wrongful convictions that were the direct result of improper or invalidated forensic science. It is believed that even more people were wrongfully convicted because technicians either reported false test results or concealed some parts of the results that may have helped the defense refute the charges against the accused.
There are no real solutions in sight to address crime lab discrepancies. Because labs can be run by private companies, by individual law enforcement agencies or by state governments, it would be difficult to adopt national regulations. Additionally, authorities are concerned that questioning the criminal justice system might jeopardize past convictions.
Colorado crime lab discrepancies not immediately reported to defense attorneys
The Colorado Department of Health and Environment’s Laboratory Services Division was one of the crime labs recently under scrutiny for misconduct. According to The Colorado Independent, a 2013 report found numerous discrepancies that included the following:
- Lab personnel who had not been properly trained for court testimony
- Unsecured samples that could be accessed by unauthorized personnel
- Understaffed facilities
- A supervisor who made statements suggesting an unfair bias toward prosecutors and law enforcement and against defendants
These findings were discussed with prosecutors at the state attorney general’s office three weeks before they were shared with the defense community. Defense attorneys say that the delay may have affected hundreds of cases in Colorado and may have resulted in some faulty convictions.
If you’ve been charged with a crime, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights, which include the proper handling of all evidence that can be used to support your case.