In 2008, a new director was named to the Indiana State Department of Toxicology. Immediately Michael Wagner noticed problems. He was the first forensic toxicologist to head the department in more than a decade and this could have been the reason problems were so apparent to him. Soon after taking office he decided to do an audit and since then the issue has been coming to a head.
The state toxicology lab has operated under Indiana University since 1957; it is a publically funded lab. And though around 85% of such labs are accredited assuring some level of adherence to standards, this one isn’t and has never been.
That fall (2008), Wagner met with members of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council and advised them that he was planning to do an audit. He got approval for the audit from his supervisor at Indiana University’s School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology after explaining his concerns.
It was after announcing the audit that some critics believe the IPAC should’ve taken action, at the very least alerting defense lawyers to the problems and possibly beginning their own investigation and audits.
Just a few months after beginning the audit in January of 2009, Wagner told prosecutors and law enforcement to not move to trial with test results that were processed between 2007 and 2008 without first alerting him so he could check the evidence and retest if necessary. He said he wasn’t completely confident being called to the stand on test results during that time period before he was named director.
Again those present had an opportunity and some would argue a duty to tell defense lawyers and the public about the issues at hand. To date, however, prosecutors present at that meeting deny feeling like they were being told there was a significant problem with tests according to the Indianapolis Star.
It wasn’t until March 2010 that IPAC acknowledged the audit and some problems at the lab in a public manner. Following this acknowledgement, the governor’s council created an assessment team to not just look at the lab problems, but how those problems had been handled up until that point. Soon after, one of the directors of IPAC resigned.
This lab shakeup isn’t the first of its kind in the country and its impact is still yet unknown. Indiana lawmakers are rushing to change how the criminal evidence is handled. The Senate has voted to remove the lab from the direction of Indiana University and making it a separate state body and the bill has yet to pass the House.
There’s a good chance the lab issues will result in some cases being appealed and eventually thrown out altogether. About 200 letters are ready to be sent out, outlining specific cases in which evidence may have been flawed.
The handling of evidence from the time it is seen by law enforcement until a case goes to trial is crucial. If the integrity of the evidence is jeopardized in any manner, there’s a good chance it will be inadmissible in court.
If you are facing criminal charges, the integrity of the evidence against you should be analyzed in detail by your criminal defense attorney. If you have questions about your charges or are in need of counsel, contact our attorneys today.