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DUI Cases Tainted by Laboratory Issues

by | Aug 23, 2013

The actions of a single chemist in Boston has affected more than 40,000 criminal cases there, according to a recent case review.

As the new report brings the full scope of her actions come to light, our D.C. DUI defense attorneys understand a separate case of laboratory issues in Arizona has resulted in a judge suppressing blood evidence in nearly a dozen DUI cases there. It’s believed that possibly hundreds of cases total could be affected as a result of systematic laboratory errors.

These cases are truly frightening when we think of how heavily our criminal justice system has come to rely on laboratory results.

In D.C. DUI arrests, Metro police officers will often employ the use of a breathalyzer test to determine one’s level of intoxication. Sometimes in more serious cases, perhaps where an accident has occurred and there has been significant injury or property damage, officers will seek to obtain a blood sample.

Per a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year, police must first obtain a warrant before they are allowed to do this. We all put a great deal of faith in the system that, once those results are submitted, lab staffers will prioritize accuracy above all else.

However, increasingly, we are finding this is not the case in many of the crime laboratories across the country.

In the case of the chemist in Boston, the allegations first surfaced last year. The chemist worked at a state crime lab and was in charge of analyzing samples in drug cases to determine whether those substances were illicit. As it turned out, authorities found out she had been routinely tampering with and mishandling evidence inn these cases – over the course of 9 years.

We still don’t know exactly why, but subsequent numerous media reports have indicated the staffers were overworked and the lab was underfunded and poorly managed. Although there is no indication her supervisors directed her to take the harmful actions she did, there is ample evidence that the oversight of her work was lax. The fallout of all this is expected to span years to come.

In the Arizona case, a Superior Court judge ordered the blood test results in at least 11 felony drunk driving cases to be suppressed. Each of the cases involved blood-testing equipment that was reportedly faulty in a lab used by the Scottsdale Police Department.

What’s especially troubling in this case is that there is evidence that the police department knew for years that there were problems with the testing methods, and yet continued to rely upon it anyway.In some cases, the equipment mislabeled blood vials with the wrong names or numbers. In other cases, it simply stopped running mid-test. There were also cases in which it erased baseline information from measurements in the midst of test runs.

The problems didn’t come to light until local media requested e-mail records from lab staffers, which showed internal waning confidence in the machines, even as they testified in court as to the strength of their validity.

Our D.C. DUI defense lawyers are committed to vetting all the evidence being used against our clients.

If you are facing DUI charges in D.C., contact the Scrofano Law, PC at 202-765-3175.