Audit of State Crime Lab Abruptly Halted

A few months ago we reported about problems within the state crime lab, where It had been discovered that numerous drug tests had been flawed. The three-person panel, appointed by Governor Mitch Daniels recommended and immediate audit to get scope on the extent of the issue. Now, however, the audit has been called off and it’s not clear if we’ll ever know just how bad the problems were.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the chairwoman of the advisory board overseeing the audit, Linda Chezem, said they must “review the audit” to ensure the need justifies the cost, estimated to be more than $250,000. Essentially, she is saying an audit must be done of the audit before or even if it can move forward.

The problems within the crime lab involved false positives for drug tests. The panel found 10% of marijuana cases and 32% of cocaine cases that were reviewed did not meet scientific standards. In the 10% of marijuana cases, for instance, 61 were falsely reported as positive when there was no trace of the drug.

Chezem herself has said there is no way to know for sure how long it will take to review the audit and whether or not it will continue.

Needless to say, many are not happy with this decision–particularly because the findings of the audit could lead to overturned convictions.

None of the alcohol analysis from OWI cases handled by the Department of Toxicology have been reviewed yet and Larry Landis, the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council, indicates this abrupt stop in the audit without any indication of beginning the testing again “sounds to me like a cover-up.”

Alcohol cases were the most abundant in the lab and the Forensic Consultants, Inc.—tasked with conducting the audit—were just about to begin that aspect of the investigation when they were notified via email to immediately halt the review.

Alcohol cases aren’t only more prevalent, but those up for review in the audit were more likely to end in felony charges than those drug tests conducted, according to the Indy Star. Also, because only a trace of drugs has to be present, alcohol tests require knowing the substance is present and in what concentration, a far more in depth process.

Chezem points out that knowing there was false readings would only be the beginning and retesting would have to occur in order to prove there was any miscarriage of justice. And she may be right—retesting would be the most thorough, albeit expensive, way to rule out any wrongful convictions. But in her mind, this is all the more reason to stop and review the audit now.

A local defense lawyer states that while retesting may eventually be needed, that’s no reason to stop the paper reviews in progress now. These reveal the quality of the lab’s work overall. And issues found within the marijuana and cocaine cases indicate there would be more of the same issues within the alcohol cases since the same lab workers were conducting the tests.

Despite all of this, the audit has ceased and there’s no indication of what will happen next. It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that the state will allow the entire situation to be swept under the rug. In the meantime, people convicted on charges within the time period of the labs problems will be left to wonder if the evidence used in their case was handled appropriately or if they got an unfair shake.

How evidence is handled in a criminal case is crucial in ensuring you are treated fairly and your rights are protected as a defendant. If you are facing charges and have questions about the evidence against you, contact our Indiana defense attorneys today.

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