Do Crime Labs Hide Breathalyzer Test Evidence?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on December 1st, 2017

I’ve written in the past about the inaccuracy of breath test results generally.  See, for example, Breathalyzers and Breath Test Accuracy and How Breathalyzers Work – and Why They Don’t.  And I’ve commented upon the many instances of supposedly "impartial" crime labs faulty testing procedures and lab "experts" testifying to facilitate convictions rather than justice.  See Crime Lab Breath Tests "Unreliable", More False Blood-Alcohol Results and Crime Labs Paid for Convictions – But Not for Acquittals?

This recurring and very disturbing picture of government crime labs willing to hide or even falsify evidence to assist government prosecutors appears to be endemic.  Consider, for example, this recent news article from The Boston Globe:


Report Finds State Lab Withheld Breathalyzer Test Results

Boston, Ma.  Oct. 17 – The head of a state crime lab office was fired Monday after investigators found that staff withheld exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers in thousands of drunken-driving cases since 2011, a disclosure that could threaten many convictions.

In a report released Monday, state public safety officials concluded that the Office of Alcohol Testing routinely withheld documents from defense lawyers in a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results due to an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.”

The documents included evidence that breath testing devices had failed to properly calibrate during the office’s certification process, the report found.

“We conclude that OAT leadership made serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions,” the report found.


This was followed a few days later with an insightful OpEd piece appearing in The Washington Post:


Another Week, Another Crime Lab Scandal

Wash., DC.  Oct 20 — ….At some point, we need to start asking pointed questions. Among them: Why would crime-lab analysts feel pressure to fake incriminating test results and to hide exculpatory results? Are they feeling pressure from police or prosecutors? We already know that, incredibly, some crime labs only get funding when their analysts produce results that help win convictions. Is that what’s happening here? There are numerous public and private grants and awards tied to driving-under-the-influence enforcement, both for police departments as a whole and for individual officers. Was that a factor here?

Crime-lab analysts should be neutral. Their job performance should be evaluated based on their accuracy. Clearly, something is making at least some of these analysts think there’s a “right” and a “wrong” answer when conducting these tests. Perhaps it’s right there in the name: the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory. A forensic analyst shouldn’t be considered on the same side or team as the police. Hosting these labs under the auspices of police or district attorney’s offices is a big part of the problem.


Yet it continues…..
 

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