Is there a problem in America’s crime labs?
We know Texas crime labs have had their issues in recent years, from the moldy rape kits in Austin to the halting of DNA testing in Dallas labs due to defects. But it’s not just Texas. Crime lab problems run rampant across the United States.
Problems Across the Nation
In April, a stunning 21,000 drug cases were thrown out after a Massachusetts state crime lab chemist named Annie Dookhan admitted to many forms of misconduct. This included forging signatures, misleading investigators and purposefully contaminating drug samples en masse. She pleaded guilty to dozens of charges, including obstruction of justice, perjury and tampering with evidence. Hundreds of defendants appealed convictions and had them tossed out.
Another 10,000 prosecutions may be overturned thanks to misconduct by another Massachusetts crime lab worker. Sonja Farak abused her position to steal drugs over an eight-year period. Her actions were covered up by two former assistant attorneys general before a judge figured her out.
Similar horror stories fill law journals and scientific publications. New York, West Virginia, Texas, North Carolina and nearly 20 other states have dealt with massive problems in their crime labs. When things like this happen, there is a real possibility for accused defendants to be wrongfully convicted of crimes they never committed. The solution to this problem lies in greater transparency, external scrutiny, stiffer penalties for misconduct and real consequences for violators.