Another week, another laboratory scandal: Santa Clara County Crime Lab (and it’s accredited by ASCLD/LAB)

Another week, another laboratory scandal: Santa Clara County Crime Lab (and it’s accredited by ASCLD/LAB)

[Hat tip to The Charles Smith Blog]

I have written time and again about how forensic science as it is currently practiced in the United States needs massive improvement. The repeated Quality Assurance system failures would never be tolerated in industry. Heck, the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act was passed to address just one failure in the clinical laboratory arena. Yet, forensic science is continued to run amuck through lives.

I used to call it the “forensic scientist retirement plan” where you would do bad quality work or dry lab and when you were caught, you just retired. No charges. Just carry on. You are free to go to another laboratory to screw up other lives.

Now, sadly with this example, the Santa Clara Crime Laboratory hits a new low. The worst type of mistake is a false positive where one says that an analyte is present, but in reality it is not. The person who made these repeated mistakes was not told to retire and was not fired. The person was not publicly identified. The person was just reassigned. Really????

I’m betting that this person was re-assigned to be in either administration or Quality Assurance. I’ve seen that happen before.

One of the things that those deep into the world of forensic science, the apologists for the current system, like to point out this that “crime lab failures happen to unaccredited labs, not accredited labs.” How many times have we heard this?

Well, here is yet another myth buster. Guess what according to their website:

The [Laboratory of Criminalistics-aka The Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory] crime laboratory is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory / Accreditation Board. The accreditation is in the disciplines of DNA, firearms/toolmarks, trace evidence, questioned documents, controlled substances, and toxicology.

And what can we expect ASCLD/LAB to do about it? Nothing. Big fat nothing.

I like how the DA has pledged that there will be changes, but boy it would be nice to see a meaningful full report that does a true root cause analysis that names names, outlines the failures in the QA program and then finally makes it all public and unredacted. It is only through total and complete transparency that there can be public confidence in the laboratory. My guess, it won’t be done in a meaningful and full way, if at all.

It’s like the laboratory administration is saying “bad crime analyst, even though you screwed up cases for months and likely ruined lives, try not to do it again in your new position here.”


Critical Mistakes at Santa Clara County Crime Lab Went Unnoticed for Months: DA

By NBC Bay Area Staff
|  Monday, May 5, 2014  |  Updated 6:51 PM PDT

Drug testing at a crime lab.

Critical mistakes at a Santa Clara County crime lab went unnoticed for two months, and prosecutors are promising change, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said.

The errors happened while testing for meth from January through March, according to the DA’s office. The blood and urine test results came back positive when they should have been negative.

A criminalist discovered the error last month after noticing the test’s sensitivity was set higher than it should be.

The person who made the mistake has now been reassigned.

and also this one

Santa Clara County crime lab botches methamphetamine tests

Updated at 05:22 AM today
Santa Clara County crime lab

Santa Clara County crime lab (KGO Photo)

A Santa Clara County crime lab technician has been reassigned following botched tests in methamphetamine cases.

Crime lab workers used the wrong chemical to conduct methamphetamine tests on nearly 2,500 suspects. That mixture increased the test’s sensitivity. The district attorney’s office says the mistake resulted in six false positives. A criminalist discovered the error in April.

The DA says none of those six people are in-custody based off those tests. The DA’s office is also notifying 2,500 other defendants and their lawyers that their test results were processed during the period in question.

The analyst who made the initial mistake has been reassigned from drug testing duties until a review of what happened can be completed.


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