Misconduct in Massachusetts crime labs compromise defendants’ cases

Several Massachusetts criminal laboratories are currently under the microscope due to the misconduct of a few chemists. The actions of these workers have potentially compromised the integrity of evidence evaluations in a number of criminal cases. The news brings a serious catastrophe to Massachusetts crime labs as criminal convictions turn on the presentation and scientific authentication of criminal evidence.

Thirty-eight new chemists recently joined Massachusetts' crime labs; however, due to lab misconduct, the undersecretary of forensic science and technology notes that it will be a couple of years before the criminal evidence backlog begins to recede. The backlog and associated costs stem from the actions of a former chemist at the Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Boston. The chemist's former practice of identifying drugs by sight and manipulating evidence has pushed prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers and members of the system into a huge criminal justice debacle.

The actions of the chemist have widespread impact on the state. Moreover, this was just one incident of laboratory misconduct. In addition to the issues at Hilton, another state lab at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst has been closed since January 2013 after authorities suspected a chemist of stealing drugs from the lab. The two labs had been under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health. Nevertheless, the Office of Public Safety and Security will handle both cases.

In response to the crime lab scandals, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to find all defendants whose cases were handled by the Hinton chemist have a presumptive right to have their sentences delayed while motions for new trials are pending. One of the justices will soon decide whether to refer the ACLU request on to the full court. Wrongdoings of the two chemists have created a hefty burden for the state. Hopefully, any defendants affected by the chemists' actions will have a fair chance at justice.

Evidence can make or break a case in criminal law. For this reason, the state must implement foolproof procedures and safeguards in future lab tests to ensure that suspects' rights are honored. If you have been charged with a crime, it is important that your case be presented accurately before court. The criminal justice system is complex and multifaceted. Minor errors can lead to dire consequences. If you are facing serious charges, retain the assistance of a qualified criminal law attorney.