An article by the Huffington Post has uncovered an unnerving facet of our criminal justice system. There have been many articles showing a bias within government or government contracted crime labs in the United States. It is also left a gap of uncertainty in when the crime lab is considered a party of the prosecution team, and required to turn over exculpatory evidence when the prosecution uses them to gain a conviction. Private laboratories operate for financial gain in our capitalist society. They have owners, salaries, payroll tax, and every other expense of a private business, which they are. Even honest lab techs understand their paycheck is based on these government contracts, which mean the government is their paying clients, often times their best paying client for which they are dependent upon for economic survival. This bias could lead to wrongful convictions of innocent people.
"Funding crime labs through court-asses fees creates another channel for bias to enter crime lab analyses. In jurisdiction with this practice the crime lab receives a sum of money for each conviction of a given type. Ray Wikenheiser says, "collection of court costs is the only stable source of funding for the Acadiana crime lab. $10 is received for each guilty pleas or verdict from each speeding ticket, and $50 from each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and Drug Offense."
In Broward County, Florida, Monies deposited in the Trust Fund are principally court costs assessed upon conviction of driving or Boating under the influence (BUI) ($50 or selling, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance ($1000)."
"Several state statutory schemes require defendants to pay crime laboratory fees upon conviction. North Carolina General Statutes require, "For the services of the state or local crime lab, that judges in criminal cases asses a $600 fee to be charged upon conviction and remitted to the law enforcement agency containing the lab whenever that lab performed DNA analysis of the defendant for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, or analysis of any controlled substance possessed by the defendant or the defendant's agent."
"Illinois crime labs receive fees upon convictions for sex offenses, controlled substance offenses, and those involving driving under the influence. Mississippi crime labs require crime laboratory fees for various conviction types, including arson, aiding suicide, and driving while intoxicated."
"Similar provisions exist in Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia and, until recently, Michigan. Other states have broadened the scope even further. Washington statues require a $100 crime lab fee for any conviction that involves lab analysis. Kansas statutes require offenders "to pay a separate court cost of $400 for every individual offense if forensic science or laboratory services or forensic computer examination services are provided in connection with the investigation." In addition to those already listed, the following sates also require crime lab fees in connection with various conviction types: Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin."
The article also states, "Think about how these fee structures play out in the day-to-day work in these labs." This is very interesting, because the laboratory knows they get paid a certain amount if they find the result that gains a conviction. Many times the results are presented as careful, honest, unbiased opinions of analysts with nothing to gain from either conclusion.
Herein lies another problem. Certain molecules like the very small cocaine molecule is present on a large percentage of US Currency. It spreads easily during sample collection, analysis, and packaging. Cocaine can be found on many surfaces, and is found as contamination is dirty laboratories on a regular basis. Now, if a person is suspected of possession of cocaine, and a sample turns up cocaine, does it mean the same is cocaine or could it be contamination? An analyst has to provide testimony and results that they found, but many times a jury does not have any understanding or expertise on the subject, and can be easily mislead by a more educated laboratory analyst who desires a certain result, without ever directly lying.
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