Sunday, September 28, 2008

Firearms cases at Detroit lab to be reviewed

More disgraceful forensic science

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy told criminal court judges Friday that investigators will be reviewing firearms cases handled by Detroit's beleaguered police crime lab going back five years. Wayne County Circuit Judge Edward Ewell said the probe of the lab -- shuttered Thursday after errors were found in ballistic testing in numerous criminal cases -- could widen to include a review of other kinds of evidence tested by the lab.

Ewell, the presiding judge of the criminal division, also warned that courts could be swamped by appeals generated by sloppy or erroneous lab work on guns. "Our fingers are crossed," he said, adding that there could be "criminal liability growing out of this."

Judge Timothy Kenny said lab workers might be subject to criminal charges from gross negligence to perjury if lab employees testified falsely: "It could be a whole can of worms." But he said that bad lab work may not automatically overturn a conviction. A claim of self-defense may not be affected by sloppy lab work on shell casings, he said.

Meanwhile, defense lawyers called Friday for a meeting with Worthy and a wider ranging probe of the lab's work. "We are shocked and outraged, and we have no idea of the extent of the damage done to the criminal justice system," said William Winters, president of the Wayne County Criminal Defense Bar Association. "We need to call for an independent investigation." Criminal defendants could have had their rights compromised even if there was no false testimony, Winters said.

Innocent people may have pleaded in deals rather than chancing a harsher sentence at trial in the face of presumed scientific proof, he said. "We just don't know how bad this may be," he said.

Maria Miller, the prosecutor's spokeswoman, said there are no plans to meet with the defense bar, though she said her office will contact "individual attorneys whose cases may be affected by the audit."

The entire police crime lab was shut down and its work shifted to the Michigan State Police on Thursday when a preliminary audit found what Worthy called "a shocking level of incompetence." State police auditors said a random sampling of 200 gun cases found 10% with erroneous or false findings. Auditors said the lab mishandled evidence, didn't keep test records and could not verify the accuracy of its equipment.

Although auditors tested only gun cases, the entire lab -- which handled a variety of forensic testing, including DNA, fingerprint and drug evidence -- was closed out of fear that slipshod methods were wide-ranging.

State Police, which does not charge for its service, will handle most work at labs in Sterling Heights and Northville, said spokeswoman Shanon Akans. Testing time ranges from 35 days for fingerprints up to 180 days for DNA, Akans said.

Original report here

(And don't forget your ration of Wicked Thoughts for today)

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