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Crime lab scandals remind us that evidence is not always iron-clad

We have all seen at least one of the dozens of law enforcement procedural dramas on television. Thanks to shows like CSI, the American public is fascinated with the process of solving crimes by analyzing DNA and other forensic evidence. While there is a general belief that science never lies, it is well known that humans do. The unfortunate truth is that evidence can be misinterpreted, tainted or falsified before a case goes to trial.

Alabama readers may remember a national news story from 2012 about a chemist in a Massachusetts drug laboratory who was imprisoned for falsifying drug test results. Because of her errors and/or deliberate obstruction of justice, thousands of cases have been called into question. This incident was just one of at least 12 crime lab scandals to occur in the U.S. within the last two years.

In spite of these scandals, there seems to be no progress on preventing similar incidents from happening in the future. There are no uniform standards governing crime labs across the United States; nor are there nationwide regulations that govern the credentials of forensic analysts. In the Massachusetts case, the lab was operating without accreditation and the analyst was convicted of lying about her own credentials.

We would all like to think that justice is blind and science is always objective. But these dozen or so scandals show that the “experts” in many crime labs mishandle or taint evidence more often than one would assume. In any criminal case where evidence will play a key role for the prosecution, those facing charges need the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: Alabama Public Radio, “Despite Scandals, Nation’s Crime Labs Have Seen Little Change,” Jan. 5, 2013