So remember how Indiana was launching a big investigation into errors at the state crime lab? Remember how hundreds of convictions could have been called into question?
Turns out it would be cheaper to just pretend the whole thing never happened.
A half-finished audit of drug and alcohol test results from the state’s toxicology lab already has found serious problems that raise the possibility of wrongful convictions.
But just how bad the situation is might never be known.
The Indianapolis Star learned Tuesday that the state has abruptly halted the independent audit. It was one of the first recommendations offered by a new three-person board appointed by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Linda Chezem, chairwoman of the advisory board overseeing the state Department of Toxicology’s move from Indiana University to a stand-alone state agency, said it’s prudent to review the audit. She cited the cost — more than $250,000 — and the need to make sure the state is “spending money to get the best information we can.”
Chezem said she has “no idea” how long it will take to review the audit. And it’s uncertain whether the state will restart the audit . . .
IU hired Colorado-based auditor Forensic Consultants Inc. to examine the paper records for every positive test result from 2007 to 2009. Auditors found errors in 10 percent of marijuana cases and 32 percent of cocaine cases. They were working on the substance involved in the most cases — alcohol — when informed by email to “place a hold” on the audit.
“What they have done,” said prominent Indianapolis defense attorney J.J. Paul, “is open Pandora’s box, and now they want to close it just as they get to the greatest number of cases that affect the greatest number of people.”
Chezem, a former judge, questioned the value of a comprehensive, paper-only audit of results without retesting samples.
“The question is, ‘What does this mean?’ ” she said of the audit results. “We’re asking other experts to work with us on this. . . . Until you have a retest result that’s false-positive, I don’t know if anyone has been denied civil liberties.”
Of course, it would be much more expensive (and probably impossible) to go back and retest every individual sample. You do the general audit to get a grip on the extent of the problem, which you then use to figure out which batches of individual samples need to be retested. Without the audit, you’re left only with the impractical option of going back and testing every sample over the period in question (which is never going to happen), or leaving it up to individual defendants to take it upon themselves to go to court, at their own expense, to request that their case be reopened.
This reeks of sweeping the problem under the rug. Gov. Daniels can still override the panel’s recommendation and continue the audit. I hope he does.