It seems that every week there is more news coming out of a forensic laboratory of major laboratory failures. This time it is from the state of Massachusetts where a state crime lab has been shut down and 50,000 samples from at least 34,000 different accused citizens are now all in question.
Mass. Crime Lab Shutdown Puts 50K Cases in Question
This raises several very serious concerns for The Truth About Forensic Science Blog.
1. That is a lot of affected people!
To put this in perspective, the picture at left is of the American Airlines Arena where the current NBA Champion Miami Heat plays their home games. The arena boasts itself as one the top 10 venues in the nation for ticket sales and seats an impressive 19,600 people. In Massachusetts there is at least 34,000 people possibly affected and very likely will be closer to 40,000. That is enough people to fill up the American Airlines Arena nearly TWO TIMES. That is a lot of our citizens who could be falsely accused.
2. How many people are affected before the lab is actually exposed?
From the desk of government propaganda, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, as well as government training on DUI enforcement, often uses a favorite statistic that for every person who gets arrested for their first DUI, they actually drove under the influence and got away with it 80 times before.
This is obviously used as a scare tactic to discourage leniency. But it raises a good question here. For every lab error that gets caught, how many errors did they get away with before getting caught the first time? It is foolish to believe that every error is eventually caught, that’s just simply not the case. In fact many sources of error are of such a fashion that they could never be caught. For every lab error that is discovered it is safe to say that there are possibly an exponential number of errors that will never be caught and never be corrected.
3. Labs always find a scapegoat to blame the problems on so the public will have a false sense of security and rest assured that the problems were the fault of merely a single rogue analyst and not a laboratory failure.
Watch closely in the government interviews and press releases that come after an announcement of a laboratory scandal and you will always see where the government claims that there was merely one or two rogue analysts that caused all of the problems. They seem to believe they deserve praise for catching this rogue analyst or two and that now all is good. They want you to believe that the responsible person has been caught and dealt with and that you, the public, can now sleep comfortably knowing that all is fine in the lab.
This case is no different:
“We’re going to try and seek some additional information and see if we can have a fuller understanding of what the actions of this individual were and then make some determinations with respect to these many, many cases should be dealt with,” O’Keefe said.
“Nothing could be more important than to get to the bottom of this and to make sure that in any cases — particularly those in which somebody was incarcerated — that they had a fair trial.”
A message was left Wednesday at Dookhan’s home in Franklin. In a statement issued last week, her husband said she maintains her innocence and that “more than one person was involved in botching a drug procedure.”
“We believe it’s co-workers who are trying to create a scapegoat,” he said.
Want to know the truth? This excuse is flat-out deceitful and dishonest. Here is why. First, all labs have a quality assurance person whose sole job is to double check the work of the analysts and make sure there are no errors; a form of checks and balances. In this Massachusetts case these errors spanned a time period of 9 YEARS – 2003-2012. Where was the lab’s Quality Assurance personnel? How did they miss these errors for nine straight years?! Is that not hard to believe? Second, where was the training for the person who is supposedly solely responsible for these errors? Third, where was this person’s supervisor or supervisors? This is a laboratory wide, if not system wide, failure and not as simple of a fix as get rid of the scapegoat and all is magically perfect again.
These announcements are happening all too often and its clearly time for MAJOR forensic science reform in this country. When is it actually going to happen? How many innocent people have to suffer before it happens? How many millions of dollars have to be wasted before it happens?
The clock is ticking and this is getting old folks.