Stating the Obvious: There is Prosecution Bias in Most Crime Labs-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 bias education plays in a crime laboratory. Everyone has bias. Bias is unavoidable. In fact, in certain contexts it is a good thing. Bias against strangers is what keeps kids from going into stranger’s cars. There is also inappropriate bias like bigotry.

A crime laboratory is no different. Bias is unavoidable. It needs to be addressed. There needs to be institutional awareness of this and steps to mitigate inappropriate bias.

It is sad that so much of forensic science comes down to human integrity. It’s downright scary.

Some quotes from the full report:

Allegation 5: EMPLOYEE 18 alleges that SUPERVISOR 3 has made statements that suggest s/he is “biased” against defendants in criminal trials.

Supporting Information:

EMPLOYEE 18 states: “SUPERVISOR 3 is very biased in favor of the prosecution. When s/he returned from testifying at trial, s/he frequently said things like, ‘I really stuck it to the defendant today’ and ‘I’m sure he’s going to jail.’ S/he also said things like, ‘You just have to play the defense attorney’s game’ and laughed about the process. S/he frequently became visibly excited when s/he learned that defendants had been convicted. When I observed SUPERVISOR 3 testify in a trial once, I noticed that s/he was very friendly and accommodating toward the prosecutor, but very cold and defensive toward the defense attorney. My impression was that s/he favored the prosecution. I feel like the role of an analyst and scientist is to maintain independence and to give unbiased testimony. I never saw any other analysts behave the way SUPERVISOR 3 does by demonstrating her/his bias for the prosecution. It seems inappropriate for an analyst or scientist to be biased toward either the prosecution [or] the defense.”

EMPLOYEE 7 states: “I have heard SUPERVISOR 3 make comments like, ‘Is that the drunk girl calling?’ and ‘Karma is going to get these people someday’ referring to defendants. SUPERVISOR 3 is very pro-prosecution. In the few times when I testified and the defendant was not convicted, SUPERVISOR 3 said things like, ‘He might have gotten off this time, but karma is going to get him.”’

EMPLOYEE 6 states: “SUPERVISOR 3 used to walk in smiling after testifying and say things like, ‘I did great on that one. He’s going to jail, and it’s because of my testimony.’ S/he is very obviously biased toward the prosecution. I was always very uncomfortable with that because I always tried to be completely unbiased in my reports and in my testimony. SUPERVISOR 3 used to call me to tell me when defendants in trials I testified in were convicted. I don’t think lab techs are here to prosecute people. SUPERVISOR 3’s bias toward the
prosecution is so obvious that it goes without saying.”

EMPLOYEE 10 states: “I think that SUPERVISOR 3 at times may be more pro prosecution and that s/he may appear that s/he is in it for the win. I do not have specific examples, however I have overheard SUPERVISOR 3 make references to ‘Winning the case. ‘”

EMPLOYEE 1 states: “I feel that SUPERVISOR 3 is very biased toward the prosecution for cases in which s/he has testified. I have heard her/him say things like, ‘I wiped the board with the defense attorney’ or that s/he made the defense attorney ‘look like an idiot.’ I have heard her/him talk about particular defense attorneys slhe does not like. S/he has talked about a few opinion letters s/he has written in cases where s/he did not think the defendant was guilty, but overall I feel like s/he wants defendants to be convicted because slhe thinks they are

EMPLOYEE 1 continues: “When I go to court, I don’t contact the prosecutor to find out the results of the cases in which I testify because I don’t care about the results of a trial. But SUPERVISOR 3 frequently contacts District Attorneys to find out the results of the cases in which s/he testifies. I have heard her/him say that a defendant ‘looked like a slime ball’ and says things about whether s/he thought the jury believed herlhim. SUPERVISOR 3 frequently expresses joy when s/he learns that someone has been convicted, and disappointment when s/he learns that someone has been acquitted. I feel like our job is to present the science, not to be concerned whether someone is guilty.”

SUPERVISOR 1 has worked for the Laboratory Services Division for over [NUMBER] years and was SUPERVISOR 3’s [JOB TITLE] until the summer of 2012. SUPERVISOR 1 states: “When defendants have called in to check the results of their tests, I have heard SUPERVISOR 3 say something like, ‘Is that the drunk calling?'”

EMPLOYEE 3 states: “SUPERVISOR 3 often comments about testifying in trial. S/he seems to feed off of DAs getting guilty verdicts. But we’re not part of the judicial system. The scientists and I don’t feel like we should concern ourselves with the outcomes of trials. SUPERVISOR 3 butts heads with several defense attorneys, and s/he makes comments like, ‘I shut them down’ and ‘They don’t know what they’re talking about.’ S/he also says things like, ‘I need to call that DA to find out what happened with that case.”

EMPLOYEE 4 states: “SUPERVISOR 3 is definitely pro-prosecution. S/he will bend over backwards for DAs. Once when we were in Jefferson County to testify, the judge dismissed the charges against a defendant. After the hearing, I was in the hallway with SUPERVISOR 3 and EMPLOYEE 15 ([JOB TITLE] who used to work in Toxicology and now works in [WORK LOCATION]). SUPERVISOR 3 yelled down the hallway at the defendant and said something like, ‘They’ll get you next time’ or ‘You’ll be back again.’ I thought it was very inappropriate.”

EMPLOYEE 4 continues: “SUPERVISOR 3 often returns from court and [says] s/he ‘put the defense attorney in the ground’ or similar comments. S/he also often calls DAs to find out whether defendants got convicted. I think the defense attorneys go after the lab as hard as they do because SUPERVISOR 3 perceives everything in the courtroom as a personal attack on her/him, and now it has become a personal attack on her/him.”

EMPLOYEE 2 states: “SUPERVISOR 3 comes back from trials saying things like, ‘I really showed him who’s boss’ and ‘I really gave it to that defense attorney.’ I don’t feel like my job is to take one side in a case and try to win a case for the prosecution. I feel like I should be impartial and unbiased. SUPERVISOR 3 contacts DAs frequently to find out the outcome of cases, and s/he frequently makes announcements to employees like, ‘We got a guilty verdict.’ S/he also frequently asks me whether I know the outcome of cases in which I testified. I feel like SUPERVISOR 3’s priority should be what happens in the lab and with her/his employees instead of being so focused on the outcomes of cases.”

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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