Defense Attorneys at San Jose's Valencia, Ippolito & Bowman say the Mishandling of Evidence in the Nation's Crime Labs is a Threat to Guaranteed Constitutional Rights

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Recent scandals in California and Delaware are only the latest on a long list of errors committed in state and county crime labs throughout the country. The criminal defense attorneys at VIB Law in San Jose argue that immediate action should be taken to reform the system.

in crime labs throughout the nation, the cases involving mishandled evidence are not just examples of a few bad apples or isolated errors by well-meaning people. These are evidence of institutional problems

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers keeps close tabs on the mishandling of evidence and other mistakes that occur in the nation's crime labs. According to the Association's research, there are more than 30 current investigations at crime labs throughout the country where evidence was allegedly mishandled.

From Colorado to Massachusetts and Wisconsin to Texas, 19 states across the nation are involved in crime lab scandals. "These problems are not rare, they are ubiquitous and they put the rights of thousands of Americans at risk," Criminal Defense Attorney Cameron Bowman of Valencia, Ippolito and Bowman says. "And they are not a new problem. I have been a criminal defense attorney for nearly 20 years and have seen many cases in which a suspect's rights were put in jeopardy as a result of mistakes made in state-run and county-run crime labs. Since these problems are so widespread and occur with such frequency, comprehensive and systemic change is necessary. Northern California is certainly in need of aggressive reform. The recent case in Santa Clara makes that clear."

The case Bowman refers to is covered in multiple media sources including a Bay Area ABC NEWS affiliate. In the May 6, 2014 Matt Keller story, "Santa Clara County crime lab botches methamphetamine tests," Keller writes that "Crime lab workers used the wrong chemical to conduct methamphetamine tests on nearly 2,500 suspects. That mixture increased the test's sensitivity. The district attorney's office says the mistake resulted in six false positives." According to the ABC story "The DA's office is also notifying 2,500 other defendants and their lawyers that their test results were processed during the period in question." The mistake was undiscovered between January and April of this year.

Riccardo Ippolito, also a defense attorney at Valencia, Ippolito and Bowman, says that this case "erodes the public's trust in the justice system. It also should work as motivation for those of us who value the constitutional rights of all Americans. We are obligated to ask tough questions and to determine how evidence is handled when it is in the hands of law enforcement officials. Human error can and does occur. Errors happen all across the country and will likely happen again."

Ippolito goes on to mention the crime lab scandal being investigated in Delaware. "In that case," he says, "the Public Defender has identified nearly 9, 500 drug convictions that may be subject to reversal because the Delaware crime lab committed egregious errors with drug case evidence. There may also be criminal behavior involved with some of the evidence that disappeared or was tampered with."

The Delaware story is detailed in the May 1, 2014 News Journal article "Public defender seeks 9,500 drug conviction reversals" by Sean O'Sullivan and Jonathan Starkey. The Public Defender argues that drug convictions occurring from January 2010 to February 2014 should be re-evaluated if they involved evidence handled by the state Medical Examiner's Office. The argument stems from alleged criminal behavior and mistakes made by the lab staff. Poor oversight by the chief medical examiner is also alleged. The chief medical examiner was allegedly moonlighting in Rhode Island as a pathologist during that time.

"In the Santa Clara case, the District Attorney did the right thing and acknowledged the mistake that was perpetuated for a short but significant period of time," says Bowman who is a former Santa Clara County prosecutor. "The Delaware case may be more troubling as the mishandling of evidence may have gone on for years. Though this is a terrible example, it is far from the worst. In California and Delaware, and throughout the country, oversight and safeguards must be improved at crime labs."

"In many cases, the public trusts law enforcement officers, prosecutors and investigators to do the right thing. In the vast majority of cases, that trust is justified. But there are bad apples in nearly every profession," Ippolito says. "Human error also occurs in nearly every profession. But in crime labs throughout the nation, the cases involving mishandled evidence are not just examples of a few bad apples or isolated errors by well-meaning people. These are evidence of institutional problems. These problems are one of the reasons VIB law will continue to independently analyze the evidence involved in our clients' cases and look for errors by the police, crime labs, prosecutors and other representatives of the law enforcement apparatus. Our clients deserve to have their rights protected at all steps of the legal process. Everyone deserves such protection."

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Riccardo Ippolito
since: 05/2011
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Criminal Defense San Jose California | VIB Law Offices
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