Earlier this month, a former employee of a Florida crime lab was taken into custody. He was then formally charged with switching drug evidence held within the lab for over-the-counter medications and selling the stolen drug evidence. In all, the man is charged with nine separate counts of drug trafficking, 12 counts of evidence tampering and grand theft. While this is a tragic and frustrating case for the man and his family, it also speaks to broader issues affecting the criminal defense of accused persons and the criminal justice system generally.
When an individual is unjustly accused of wrongdoing, his or her primary hope of having the case against him or her dismissed is that the evidence in the case will clearly indicate that the crime was committed by another. But if evidence is tampered with, innocent persons can potentially be found guilty of crimes they did not commit. In addition, evidence tampering can lead to the unwarranted release of individuals who perhaps should be held accountable in some way for their actions.
Evidence used in criminal cases has the power to affect lives significantly. As a result, it must be treated with extreme care and respect. If crime labs cannot ensure that evidence will be properly handled, accused persons should not be bound by negative consequences associated with tampered evidence.
In addition, better drug treatment options must be made available within the system. Perhaps if individuals were given better rehabilitative options, they would not feel compelled to commit lower-level drug crimes like the ones committed by the former Florida lab tech.
Source: CNN, “Florida crime lab chemist arrested on charges of selling stolen drug evidence,” Nick Valencia and Steve Almasy, Feb. 4, 2014