Daily Archives: January 31, 2008
In today’s I-told-you-so department:
Judges Reject DUI Breath-Test Results
Seattle, Jan. 31 – In a ruling that could affect thousands of cases, a panel of King County judges said Wednesday that the state’s toxicology lab engaged in “fraudulent and scientifically unacceptable” practices that have compromised breath-test readings used to prosecute suspected drunken drivers…
In its blistering 29-page ruling, the panel of three District Court judges said the Washington State Toxicology Lab created a “culture of compromise” with so many “ethical lapses, systemic inaccuracy, negligence and violations of scientific principles” that the breath tests should not be used as evidence in pending DUI cases.
Do you really think that cover-ups of inaccurate and unreliable breathalyzer tests are limited to Seattle’s crime labs? See “Breaking Up the Forensics Monopoly” in Reason magazine, November 2007, which concludes:
Americaâ€™s forensics system, the part of our criminal justice system responsible for scientific examinations of crime-scene evidence like fingerprints and DNA, is rife with errors. Some mistakes, like botched tests or erroneously interpreted results, are inevitable. But current error rates are needlessly high.
The most recent comprehensive study of crime lab proficiency, published by the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 1995, analyzed the tests administered by the Forensic Sciences Foundation and Collaborative Testing Services as a part of the accreditation process. For many forensic disciplines, including the analysis of fibers, paints, glass, and body fluid mixtures, the rate of incorrect matches between recovered evidence and a reference sample exceeded 10 percent…
Confronted with such statistics, policy makers usually call for greater oversightâ€”that is, finding a governmental body to watch over forensics and make sure everyone does his or her job right. In the current climate, that certainly would help. But the core problem with modern forensics isnâ€™t an absence of oversight. Itâ€™s monopoly. Once evidence goes to a given lab or facility, it is unlikely to be examined by any other lab or facility. That increases the chances that a mistake will slip through undetected.
The “monopoly”, in most cases, are crime labs that are not independent but part of law enforcement – and increasingly more interested in facilitating convictions than in seeking accuracy and reliability in evidence.