First, a lab technician in Massachusetts handled criminal evidence negligently in thousands of cases. Now, nearly 1,000 rape cases in New York City may have been tainted by evidence mishandling by a crime lab technician. These criminal defense challenges do not just affect those defendants and victims directly affected by the negligent behavior of the specific lab techs in these locations. When crime lab integrity is called into question, the effectiveness of the entire criminal justice system must be revisited.
Wrongful convictions and wrongful exonerations leave both the innocent and victims without proper access to justice. Yet, pressure to attend to evidence in a timely manner and to eliminate backlogs may be inspiring lab techs all across the nation to work fast and sloppy to the benefit of no one.
One way to ensure that crime lab procedures and protocols do not lead to wrongful convictions or exonerations is to regulate them more stringently. Currently, no nationwide standards govern the day-to-day functioning of crime labs.
According to a National Research Council report published in 2009, “There is no uniformity in the certification of forensic practitioners, or in the accreditation of crime laboratories. Indeed, most jurisdictions do not require forensic practitioners to be certified… Moreover, accreditation of crime laboratories is not required in most jurisdictions. Often there are no standard protocols governing forensic practice in a given discipline. And, even when protocols are in place … they often are vague and not enforced in any meaningful way.”
The proper functioning of crime labs affects the integrity of the entire criminal justice system. In order to prevent future crime lab scandals, these facilities must be properly regulated.
Source: Slate, “The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs,” Justin Peters, Jan. 14, 2013