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Crime labs run without regulation, oversight

An important piece of evidence can change the entire character and direction of a criminal case. Whether the charges pertain to drugs, violent offenses, theft, sex crime, or even white-collar offenses such as fraud or identity theft, the obtaining, processing, and application of evidence both in and outside the court room can seal a defendant's fate. With both serious jail time and complete exculpation on the line, the proper handling of criminal evidence is essential, if justice is to be secured.

However, a new startling report has revealed the poor condition, slack work culture, and meager oversight in America's crime labs. Every state, Michigan included, depends on the forensic investigation of evidence that a crime lab is expected to complete. The report, which addressed problems at the New York City medical examiner's office, has found at least 26 cases in which a crime lab technician failed to properly detect biological evidence.

Furthermore, cross-contamination-the phenomenon of DNA evidence by one person being mistakenly tied to another's case-was also found to be taking place at an unacceptable rate. As a result of these findings, more than 800 rape cases, in addition to other past crimes, are being reviewed anew.

Additional problems of inadequate examinations have been recorded in Boston, where one technician was found to have had mishandled thousands of evidence samples over years of work at a local crime lab. As a result of the worker's slipshod techniques, 34,000 cases are being reopened, with some convictions coming to be overturned.

The problem perhaps driving these laboratory inconsistencies is the fact that no nationwide standards for crime lab management and research currently exist. Even more startling, labs in many states do not require any sort of accreditation.

Under pressure from police and prosecutors, many lab workers ignore sound scientific procedure and are overloaded by the sheer volume of evidence they are expected to process in a short frame of time.

With justice hanging in the balance and the future of a defendant's life at stake, those charged with a crime deserve to have evidence pertinent to their cases properly examined. Working with a strong criminal defense attorney can help to ensure that the legal process remains just, fair, and proper in its procedures.

Source: Slate, "The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs," Justin Peters, Jan. 14, 2013

• Our practice can help keep police, prosecutors, and all others involved in one's case true to their duties. For more information, contact our Lansing criminal defense page.

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