State and federal rules concerning the handling of evidence are a vital component of a legitimate criminal justice system. To be convicted of a drug crime based on tainted evidence is a nightmare no one should have to experience in the United States. Recent events in Massachusetts demonstrate how easily a single person can threaten the liberty of countless individuals through carelessness, neglect, and even deliberate mishandling.
A single chemist at a state crime lab was identified as having failed to follow proper procedures through sloppiness and sometimes intentional acts. Since 2003, this chemist handled drug samples affecting some 34,000 accused of drug crimes. More than 50,000 drug tests were tainted by this individual and countless people undoubtedly went to prison based on evidence that was mishandled by this individual.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors are now working to identify every case where the chemist handled evidence that may have led to an improper conviction. While it is possible that some of the chemist's work was done properly, it may be impossible to determine which samples were handled correctly and which were not. Discovery motions and appeals will likely be used by the attorneys of the defendants who were convicted based on this evidence, but for many the damage is already done.
As serious as the situation is in Massachusetts, it does raise doubts about evidence handling in other labs. If you are being investigated for, or have been accused of a drug crime, it is vital to have an experienced lawyer on your side. The case against you, including any evidence gathered and analyzed by authorities, must be reviewed carefully by a defense attorney. As this situation clearly demonstrates, mistakes do happen.
Source: PoliceOne.com, "Mass. Crime lab shut down, 50,000 drug tests tainted," by Denise Lavoie, 6 September 2012