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Something’s Rotten at Heart of Forensic Evidence in DUI Cases

Sep 2nd, 2016 DUI Trials

In an interesting article in ChemistryWorld, a publication of Royal Society of Chemistry, suggests that something may be “rotten at the heart of US forensic science.”  This includes breath and blood tests in DUI cases, including DUI cases in Michigan.

ChemistryWorld makes this bold suggestion based on at least five “high profile” cases of serious malpractice at US forensic labs.  In the case of Michigan DUI cases, the applicable forensic lab would be that located in Lansing Michigan.  Working under the auspices of the Michigan State Police, this lab is responsible for testing more than 10,000 blood samples per year for people arrested in Michigan for DUI.  The results of the lab are then used as the centerpiece for the resulting drunk driving cases, including those drunk driving cases involving serious injury or death.

Because of this, the results of the Michigan State Police forensic lab in Lansing can be the basis of people being sent to prison for many years or even decades, depending on the type of crime charged, and the offender’s criminal record.  But what if those results are wrong?  Is this possible, or are these five high publicity cases just anomalies in an otherwise sound system of producing forensic science?

According to the ChemistryWorld article:

Josh Lee, a US criminal defense attorney and founding partner of law firm Ward, Lee and Coats, says the problem is much larger than just a few rogue chemists. Too often when somebody in a forensic crime lab gets caught producing questionable work or fabricating results, they are made into a scapegoat, he says.

US criminal defense attorney for The McShane Firm Justin McShane echoes Lee. ‘It is very convenient to point to the boogeyman, but the reality is that there is a failure of a quality management and assurance system,’ he says. ‘There seems to be a systemic failure in forensics labs in the US.’

The biggest problem in forensic science is that the “scientists” are not really “scientists.”  Instead, they are technicians ostensibly using science to obtain evidence used to help prosecutors convict people.

This is why: “McShane says the role of a forensic scientist in a courtroom is that of a neutral scientist, not as part of the prosecution team. He emphasizes that lives hang in the balance, and argues that it’s the duty of a toxicologist to focus on the chemistry and the pharmacology, not to concentrate on the conviction.”[i]

The problem is that forensic scientists too often view themselves as part of the prosecution team, helping the prosecutor understand the science, know how to confound the defense objections to the evidence, and offering them lists of questions to ask when they testify.  Then, they feel bad if “they” lose (acquittal of DUI), and feel good if “they” win (conviction of DUI).

And this problem is not limited only to blood tests in Michigan’s DUI cases.  The situation is perhaps worse when it comes to Michigan’s breath testing program.  Again, “scientific instruments,” in Michgian DUI case the DataMaster breath tester, are operated by police officers with only a few hours of training.  They are also maintained by police officers.  In fact, in Michigan, not a single solitary non-police officer or former police officer is allowed to touch the DataMaster.  In a way, this aspect of Michigan’s breath testing program in DUI cases is like the fox guarding the hen house!

If you have been arrested for drunk or drugged driving in Michigan, and took a breath or blood test, then contact the Barone Defense Firm today for your FREE no obligation consultation.

[i] http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/12/hard-questions-after-litany-forensic-failures-malpractice-labs-us (last checked 12.3.14).