June 21, 2013

DUI Convictions Hinge on Lab Evidence That May Prove Faulty

In preparing to fight a DUI arrest in court, our Alabama DUI defense attorneys look as closely at the procedures of the laboratory processing evidence as we do at the procedures of the officer who slapped the handcuffs on you.
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In some cases, the laboratory procedures warrant even closer inspection. Too often, we find that carelessness, lack of oversight and even bias can play a role in results that are supposed to be based purely on strict science.

Particularly because of television shows like CSI, jurors tend to give an incredible amount of weight to the evidence produced by labs and lab technicians, assuming that it is infallible. The reality is that the results are far from bullet-proof, and mistakes occur all too often.

Take the most recent example out of Colorado, where potentially thousands of DUI cases, closed and pending, are being called into question following an independent investigation that revealed evidence of bias against defendants, inadequate training and problems with the way in which evidence was stored inside the facility. Any one of these can unquestionably result in a wrongful conviction, which is why even closed cases are now being examined one-by-one for potential errors.

According to The New York Times, the trouble in Colorado includes only DUI-related cases, though those run the gamut between run-of-the-mill drunk driving misdemeanors to felony vehicular homicide charges that carry the potential for a lifetime in prison. The stakes are high.

The state was first alerted to trouble back in April, when it was revealed that an employee misreported several tests. Several blood samples that he had tested were later found to be outside the appropriate reporting range. In a number of cases, blood-alcohol levels were reported incorrectly (and not in favor of the defense, either.) That meant that all his prior tests had come into question, prompting the state to initiate a re-testing of some 1,700 cases previously worked on by this employee. The worker was later fired. Of the 250 samples that had thus far been retested, about a dozen were revealed to have been incorrectly reported.

This kicked off a larger investigation into the lab's procedures. This is when officials became aware of larger issues at the facility. Among some of the problems were that lab technicians were being pressured to testify in court to a greater level of expertise than they felt they had. In other instances, there was evidence that the results were intentionally skewed in favor of the prosecution. There was also evidence that lab samples were stored in such a way that left them vulnerable to tampering.

Unfortunately, these kinds of issues are not unique to Colorado. Similar instances have been reported throughout the country, notably most recently in New York City and Boston.

A single lab employee can improperly affect thousands of criminal DUI cases. In our experience, there is a culture that exists in many laboratories that tends to promote a spirit of teamwork between lab workers and prosecutors. This is entirely improper and can end up affecting every single case that comes out of that lab.

As such, it is critical that every DUI defendant seek counsel from a legal team that is experienced in approaching and successfully questioning the complex issue of forensic evidence in the case.

If you have been arrested for DUI in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.

Additional Resources:
Colorado State Lab Accused of Mishandling Evidence, June 10, 2013, By Jack Healy, The New York Times

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Marijuana DUI Victory Proves Per Se Drug Limits Pointless, June 4, 2013, Birmingham DUI Defense Lawyer Blog