In our previous post, we wrote about the use of evidence from tests conducted in crime laboratories. As we discussed, the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment provides certain protections for defendants regarding how such evidence may be introduced at trial.
Regardless of who testifies about the evidence, however, there remains the problem of accuracy of the results themselves. There have been numerous incidents around the country of botched DWI tests, mishandled DNA evidence and other troubling laboratory errors.
One reason for this concerns oversight. Laboratories where evidence is tested in criminal investigations are often not overseen by scientists. Instead, police and sheriffs' departments often appoint someone with a law enforcement background, rather than a technical one.
When the main manager of the lab lacks grounding in the science itself, it can be difficult for the lab to continue to maintain sound testing protocols. This is especially true in urban areas like St. Louis, where labs can get clogged with cases. In the flurry of tests that need to be done, scientific validity can be compromised - leading to inaccurate test results.
To be sure, the types of scientific testing that are available today are remarkable in scope. DNA evidence, in particular, has greatly impacted the criminal justice system. But without proper procedures for doing the testing, all types of forensic evidence are subject to challenge.
In short, crime labs that do scientific tests need to be more scientific in the procedures by which they are managed. Otherwise, without proper ways to detect human error, their results can become badly flawed.
Source: "Crime Labs Botch Tests All the Time. Who's Supposed To Make Sure They Don't Screw Up?" Slate, 1-17-13
Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in St. Louis. To learn more about our practice, please visit our main criminal defense page.