The American justice system is designed to not only keep us safe from criminals, but also – to protect us from the potential intrusions of the state.
So, when we hear stories of systematic corruption and incompetence in state mandated forensic labs, it should cause all of us to stop and ask this one vital question. Who can we trust?
Although state-level corruption is nothing new, over the past decade or so, there has been an increased awareness of crime lab corruption and incompetence.
Due to the recent advances in forensic science, it is now easier to determine the supposed guilt of someone. But, it is also easier to determine if a particular lab was erroneous in its findings, and whether such error was simple negligence, or whether it rose to the level of criminal fraud.
Recently, there has been a slew of cases involving serious crimes committed by seemingly highly-regarded lab technicians. Here are just a few examples of this widespread epidemic of corruption.
- In St. Paul, Minnesota, the crime lab recently underwent an independent review, at which time it was determined that there were major errors in almost every area of their work. Between filthy equipment, faulty techniques, and lack of knowledge of basic science, the lab had an abysmal record of extremely deficient work. In fact, it was discovered that the lab technicians were sometimes using Wikipedia as a ‘technical guide’ and they would often store crime scene photos on a computer that was not password protected.
- In Massachusetts, thousands of drug convictions that led to imprisonment of thousands of people have been called into question. Why? Because a crime lab chemist admitted to faking tens of thousands of drug cases. Fortunately for the state’s residents, the chemist is now behind bars.
- And, finally. In North Carolina, it was discovered that crime lab agents either withheld exculpatory evidence or distorted evidence in over 230 cases. This reprehensible behavior occurred over a whopping 16-year time period. The most horrific aspect of this travesty is that – three of the corrupted cases resulted in execution.
Based on these examples and numerous others, it is clear that our current system needs an overhaul. One of the main criticisms of the current state of public crime labs is lack of neutrality. These labs are intended to analyze evidence in an un-bias manner. However, even if there is no intentional corruption, there is often a cognitive bias that leads to skewed findings.
There is clearly a dire need for drastic improvement in the way these labs conduct their work. What’s your thoughts on a solution?
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