Nation’s Busiest Crime Lab Reviewed after Mistakes

A New York state official has asked the district attorney of Queens to consider criminal charges against four former employees of the New York Police Department’s crime lab because of mistakes made in 2002 that could have skewed evidence in drug cases.

“The integrity of evidence is a cornerstone of law enforcement. These lapses were a threat not only to the prosecution of drug crimes but to the public’s trust in our criminal justice system,” said Kristine Hamann, the state inspector general.

Appeals Expected

Prosecutors use drug evidence collected during raids and seizures to secure a conviction, and the amount or weight of drug found has a bearing on the severity of sentencing.

Criminal defense attorney and co-founder of the Innocence Project, Peter Neufeld, said the findings “undermine God knows how many convictions,” and legal experts said the review could prompt appeals by those who want their sentences reevaluated or their convictions overturned.

Incompetent Lab Analysts

The police department acknowledged the sloppy work by three of the lab’s analysts, all of whom were either transferred or dismissed when they failed lab accuracy tests five years ago. The lab has since been overhauled with new staff and procedures.

However, the lab failed to disclose the drug testing errors to state officials until 2007 and also failed to report the mistakes to the Laboratory Accreditation Board of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.

According to Hamann, much of the original evidence has been destroyed or tainted in the five-year lapse, making new testing extremely difficult. She added that it is also now impossible to know if any other of the lab’s 100 analysts took shortcuts during the tedious drug testing process.

In addition to the three former analysts, Hamann has recommended that the former director, W. Mark Dale, of the lab also be charged. Dale retired in 2004.

(Source: The New York Times online)

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