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The Scourge of Inadequate Crime Labs

As technology and science continue to advance, it stands to reason that U.S. crime labs would produce increasingly sound results that help implicate or exonerate those accused of committing crimes.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Government-run crime labs across the nation are in the midst of a crisis that is producing flawed results, which are then used to wrongly convict individuals. Tens of thousands of convictions nationwide have come under review and, in many instances, have been retried due to the actions of careless or flat-out dishonest crime lab employees and directors.

Lack of Training and Oversight

A big part of the problem is a high level of incompetency in state crime labs resulting from insufficient training. Many labs are ill equipped to gather DNA evidence and the technicians who work in them do not take proper steps to prevent contamination of the evidence they work with, says Michelle Malkin in an National Review.

Last year, former Michigan State Police Forensic Science Director John Collins called on the Michigan State Police to forfeit control of the state’s crime labs. “In my experience, a lack of care and respect for the scientific enterprise has pervaded the executive command of the Michigan State Police for decades,” Collins stated in a letter to Col. Kriste Etue, director of the Michigan State Police.

More than the Accused Suffer

Of course, those wrongly accused and convicted of crimes because of this faulty science suffer the most. However, taxpayers also pay a heavy toll – literally – when thousands of convictions are rescinded and cases must be retried.

The truth is the certainty with which many forensic scientists presented evidence over the past decade or more has been misplaced. Thousands of individuals have been sent to prison based in large part on questionable science.

Malkin says the solution lies, in part, in greater transparency, external scrutiny and tougher penalties for those who commit forensic fraud. “It’s time to incentivize more whistleblowers, instead of more destructive witch hunts,” she states.

If you face criminal charges, it is critical to work with an experienced attorney who will carefully review all evidence presented against you and who is prepared to challenge crime lab results whenever necessary.

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