News 07.18.07

Massachusetts crime lab crisis is echoed across the U.S.

A report released this week said Massachusetts has one of the worst crime lab crises in the country, with evidence in more than 16,000 cases remaining untested and lab scandals leading to resignations and firings in recent months. But the state is not alone in facing major hurdles in forensic testing — backlogs and misconduct nationwide have slowed criminal justice investigations and contributed to wrongful convictions.

The Massachusetts report points to untested evidence in cases as far back as the 1980s, in which the statute of limitations for prosecuting crimes may have expired. Officials vowed that change was on the way, as analysts will focus first on evidence in unsolved cases and money will potentially be budgeted to outsource some testing.

A Boston Herald editorial yesterday calls the lab situation “an absolute travesty.”

The report skewers the lab’s handling of this potentially damning (or exculpatory) material. And while the state plans to process the evidence in cases that might still be prosecuted, you can’t unwind the clock. Expiring statutes of limitations mean justice, in many cases, will never be served.


Read the full editorial here

. (Boston Herald, 7/17/07)


More coverage in Massachusetts:


State officials will review old crimes

(Boston Globe, 7/17/07)



Lab backlogs and misconduct continue to plague dozens of states:

Reports this week detailed cases in

Maryland

and

Florida

in which crucial evidence in rape trials has gone missing. When labs are overworked and underfunded, human error such as the inadvertent destruction of evidence can become more prevalent.


A Washington Post article on Sunday

considered how the popularity of shows like "CSI" have led to increased jury demands for scientific evidence and may have contributed to lab backlogs nationwide.

Lab backlogs in

Alabama

have impeded justice in cases at trial and officials say they are making a “concerted effort” to remedy the problems.

Labs in

Tennessee, Kentucky, Arizona and Wisconsin

are all backlogged, according to recent news reports.

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