While there are no known issues here in Centre County, Pennsylvania, news reports from across the country of faulty procedures, cover-ups and dishonest and incompetent employees in crime labs should be enough to make any person arrested based on forensic evidence nervous.
While TV shows have made the work of forensic scientists seem hip and infallible, far too many people are still spending time in prison due to mishandling of evidence by crime lab employees. What prosecutors present to judges, juries and the public as ironclad, indisputable proof of a suspect's guilt may only prove that guilt due to manipulation of the data.
Massachusetts incident could happen anywhere
Earlier this year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug cases because a state crime lab employee intentionally contaminated evidence samples and forged signatures to ensure convictions.
Another 10,000 cases in the state could eventually be dismissed because a crime lab employee who worked on those cases stole seized drugs to fuel an addiction. Two assistant attorneys general then helped to cover-up the misconduct.
Similar stories continue to trickle out from crime labs in more than 20 other states.
Accountability is needed for everyone
While some focus on what can be done to fix the problems in crime labs - better training, harsher penalties for lab workers who fabricate or alter evidence, incentivizing whistleblowers to come forward - many people continue to spend too much time in jail due to fraudulent evidence. These are the people who need immediate attention. They face prison violence, drug addiction and time separated from their loved ones, in addition to the stigma that comes with serving time in prison.
For anyone facing a criminal conviction based on questionable DNA or other forensic evidence, it is essential that your attorney knows how to challenge this evidence.