Issues With Crime Lab Evidence
Posted on Feb 15, 2016 in Criminal Defense
In many criminal cases, ranging from DWI to those where DNA matters, scientific evidence is presented by prosecutors. Often, jury members who assume such evidence is accurate give a tremendous amount of credibility to scientific evidence. Unfortunately, issues at crime labs throughout the country mean that all too often, the evidence being presented may have been evaluated at crime labs with significant problems.
PBS reports that the Department of Justice is now taking steps to try to resolve issues with crime labs; however, the announced efforts do not nearly go far enough to actually make a substantial impact on improving testing accuracy.
If you are being charged with a crime and any type of scientific evidence is being used against you, you need to get help from a New Orleans criminal defense law firm to help you present your own experts and do everything you can to refute the information the prosecutor is offering.
DOJ’s Plan Isn’t Enough to Fix Crime Lab Problems
Many defendants (and many jury members) would be surprised to find that the labs where testing is done for criminal evidence may not be accredited. Accreditation is actually voluntary for most labs throughout the U.S. and a number of crime labs don’t go to the trouble to seek accreditation.
Of the publicly-funded labs in the United States, around 17 percent aren’t accredited. Rates of accreditation for private labs are even lower, with one of the leading forensic accreditors in the U.S. reporting accrediting just 26 private labs compared with 356 publicly-funded labs.
Still, accreditation isn’t a guarantee of an accurate lab. To become accredited, crime labs have to meet certain minimum standards in terms of operating procedures, equipment maintenance and quality controls. To test whether labs are meeting the necessary criteria, many accreditors actually allow labs to decide what cases and information to submit instead of doing a random audit. Obviously, crime labs are going to carefully select the cases where they are confident everything was done right.
The DOJ has announced plans to try to fix problems with crime labs after dozens of scandals have erupted throughout the United States and thousands of cases have had to be retried. Unfortunately, the DOJ’s plan is not nearly enough.
The DOJ’s plan is to require labs directly contracting with the Department of Justice to be accredited… but not until 2020. Labs not contracting directly with DOJ don’t have to become accredited and no tough new accreditation standards are being put in place. Further, a loophole is created because even this minimal requirement says that accredited labs must be used “when practicable,” which doesn’t mean in every case.
Crime labs should be held to the highest possible standards since the testing they do could determine a person’s guilt or innocence. Talk with a reputable criminal defense law firm if you’re on trial and scientific evidence is being used against you. An attorney can help you try to make the jury see why the lab results may be too inaccurate to convince them of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.