How impossible courtroom testimony comes to be: the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory case study

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory crisis that concerns blood ethanol content by HS-GC-FID teaches us yet again the critical role that education plays in the training of analysts. People in the laboratory are just taught to press buttons and preform tasks. They are not experts. Anyone who has been in a courtroom for any of these trials knows that you frequently get bizarre, downright wrong or totally impossible testimony. Stuff that baffles the mind. But with no in the courtroom knowing the truth, it has the powerful veneer of science and frequently leads to a conviction independent of the truth.

I guess to some people that putting his or her hand on the Bible is something of no significance.

Just look at this from the full report:


Allegation 2: EMPLOYEE 1 alleges that toxicology lab analysts are not adequately trained to provide fact or expert testimony in court.

Supporting Information: EMPLOYEE 1 states: “The analysis portion of the [blood alcohol] training was also inadequate. I was trained how to perform the analysis after conducting a test, but I was not trained on what the analysis really meant. For instance, in court, I am frequently asked about sodium fluoride and how it affects blood samples, but I wasn’t trained on that issue. It was addressed in some of the reading material I was given, but my trainer did not discuss it with me. I feel like I eventually gained an understanding of the sodium fluoride issue before the first time I testified in court, but I did not learn it in my training.”

EMPLOYEE 1 continues: “SUPERVISOR 3 has told me and EMPLOYEE 2 that (s)he wants us to give expert testimony about toxicology. EMPLOYEE 2 and I have been hesitant because we do not feel qualified, and if we make an mistakes testifying on that subject we won’t be credible after that. (S)he has told us s/he will train us to do it, but s/he has never set aside any time for training. The limited input we have received from her/him has been inadequate to train us for that role.”

EMPLOYEE 5 is [JOB TITLE] at the [WORK LOCATION] and has worked for the toxicology lab on a contract basis, most recently beginning in November, 2012. EMPLOYEE 5 states: “I have not seen any of the training records for the toxicology lab. I did rewrite the training manual for the toxicology lab. One of the additions I made was formal training so that lab techs will be qualified to testify in court regarding not just the values from their testing, but also the effects of the drugs and alcohol they measure. I believe blood alcohol lab techs in the toxicology lab are currently capable of doing that, but the blood drug lab techs are not yet capable of doing that.”

EMPLOYEE 4 states: “S/he [SUPERVISOR 3] has also been pushing us for years to give expert testimony and write expert opinion letters. But s/he has never trained us to do that. We have even told her/him we want to meet with her/him to talk about testifying, but s/he has never met with us to help.”

EMPLOYEE 4 continues: “I had a meeting with SUPERVISOR 3 and PERSON 1? Previously, SUPERVISOR 3 always made it seem like PERSON 1 (the NHTSA Colorado Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor) was the one pushing for analysts to give expert testimony. When I raised my concerns at the meeting, PERSON 1 agreed with me and said our lab needs to work out what kind of testimony we will give. It became clear at that point that it had actually been SUPERVISOR 3, not PERSON 1, pushing for us to give expert testimony. PERSON 1 told SUPERVISOR 3 to talk to lab employees and then send her/him an email explaining what kind of testimony we’re willing to give. Slhe said s/he would then forward that email to the DAs in the state to let them know. The staff met with SUPERVISOR 3 and told her/him we are not willing to provide impairment testimony. We gave her/him a list of the kinds of testimony we are willing to give, but I don’t think s/he ever sent it to PERSON 1 because we still receive requests from DAs asking us to provide opinion letters and to give impairment testimony.”

EMPLOYEE 2 states: “Lab techs do not receive adequate training to prepare for testifying in court. [W]e are not trained how to respond to questions about how certain instruments work. About two years after I started working here, some District Attorneys reviewed courtroom procedure with us, but it wasn’t constructive, and we didn’t receive any real training. I know lab techs from other labs who receive three months of training before they’re every allowed to even touch an instrument, and they are required to learn everything about the instruments before using them. SUPERVISOR 3 sometimes give me journal articles, but s/he doesn’t follow up to discuss them with me or work with me to learn anything useful from them. Instead, s/he basically gives me articles and expects me to testify in court based on them. The information given to me is incomplete and is not adequate to prepare me to testify on that issue.”

EMPLOYEE 2 continues: “One of the goals SUPERVISOR 3 added [is to] testify in a court of law regarding the impairment and effects for marijuana. I have no formal training or background on that issue. SUPERVISOR 3 was subpoenaed to testify in a trial after s/he wrote an expert opinion letter about a drug intoxication issue. For some reason, SUPERVISOR 3 did not testify at that trial and instead instructed me to do it. I did not feel comfortable testifying about the impairment and effects of marijuana, but SUPERVISOR 3 told me the only
way to get used to it was to just get on the stand and do it. S/he did not offer any formal training.”

It has almost got to the point that when there is a new laboratory scandal discovered, it provokes a yawn in me. Isn’t that sad?!? You know what happened when there was half the scandals in the clinical world? The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA)!

Where is FLIA?!?!?

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