Indiana May Halt Crime Lab Investigation

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

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.

 

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15 Responses to “Indiana May Halt Crime Lab Investigation”

  1. #1 |  Reformed Republican | 

    Since they are not going to investigate the labs, they should just throw out all of the convictions. I think you can easily argue that any conviction now has a reasonable doubt cast on it, if evidence from the crime lab was used.

  2. #2 |  Brandon | 

    This is amazingly related to your last post! So of course I expect similar false equivocation with private companies shortly.

  3. #3 |  FridayNext | 

    Ironic that it was Mitch Daniels who was once busted for two shoeboxes full of pot and assorted other drugs and got off with a $350 fine. So I guess harsher penalties are for other people, even if those other people may not even have committed a crime.

  4. #4 |  Z | 

    . Gov. Daniels can still override the panel’s recommendation and continue the audit. I hope he does.

    Oh Radley. just because Daniels doesn’t go out of his way to proclaim his hatred for gays and Mexicans doesn’t mean he is not a standard issue Republican.

  5. #5 |  Radley Balko | 

    Oh Radley. just because Daniels doesn’t go out of his way to proclaim his hatred for gays and Mexicans doesn’t mean he is not a standard issue Republican.

    Daniels did recently veto an awful asset forfeiture bill that overwhelmingly passed both houses of the state legislature.

  6. #6 |  EH | 

    Funny that it was called off just as they were getting to alcohol testing. DUIs are a gravy train.

  7. #7 |  Befuzzled | 

    Could we organize some kind of kickstarter funding request to pay for the audit? Or the ACLU could fund it? if there’s potentially wrongful/invalid convictions, surely there’s legal remit to force the audit?

  8. #8 |  SJE | 

    How about the cost to the state of wrongful convictions, let alone justice.

  9. #9 |  Michael Pack | 

    I’d love to see some real scientists test and audit breathalizers and give the margin of error .Of course,like EH said,too much money in them tickets

  10. #10 |  DarkEFang | 

    #6 Eh –

    “Funny that it was called off just as they were getting to alcohol testing. DUIs are a gravy train.”

    Also keep in mind that Marion County’s (Indianapolis) jail is run by CCA. They need to keep the county jail at full capacity in order to maximize profits, which means they need a steady stream of misdemeanor offenders. DUIs are a great source of first-time offenders. Once those people are in the system, they can expect to spend anywhere from 15 to 60 days in jail each year for probation violations.

  11. #11 |  Jay | 

    real scientists have studied various forms of breath alcohol measurement. the papers are out there, in respectable peer reviewed journals. (along with studies of the effects of various blood alcohol levels.)

    tip: don’t blow, always have them take blood.

  12. #12 |  CB | 

    This news, along with the recent Indiana Supreme court rulings on warrantless searches and the Indiana Supreme’s “rape doctrine,” don’t seem to support the latest Mercatus Institute’s ranking of Indiana as the 3rd most free state. Mercatus got it wrong; perhaps it meant that Indiana is 3rd in police state rankings!

    http://www.theagitator.com/2011/05/13/indiana-court-you-have-no-right-to-keep-cops-out-of-your-house/

    http://www.mikechurch.com/Today-s-Lead-Story/ind-supreme-cxourt-threatened-after-allowing-warrantless-searches.html

    http://mercatus.org/freedom-50-states-2011

  13. #13 |  John | 

    Nice that the default position appears to be leave the potentially innocent in jail rather than setting them free.

    What ever happened to our cultural view of better 9 guilty go free over 1 innocent be punished?

  14. #14 |  Tatiana Covington | 

    Any half-way competent defense lawyer could now point to the appallingly high error rate and call for dismissal on the grounds of reasonable doubt and tainted evidence.

  15. #15 |  PaulTheCabDriver | 

    Why does this surprise anyone? Most everything government does is incompetent. Why should this be any different? But this cae can be solved. The activists out there can put an initiative on the ballot calling for regular audits of the crime labs. I think it would be worth the effort.

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