Thursday, September 25, 2008

Detroit Police Crime Lab closed because of high error rate

My student Brenna Speiser has called to my attention a report by the Detroit Free Press, on, with this dramatic lead:
The Detroit Police crime lab is so riddled with errors that officials
ordered an immediate shut down today, saying that the local criminal justice
system could be at risk.

The closure results from an audit by the state police indicating a 10% error rate in ballistics evidence. The firearms unit had previosuly been closed, but today the entire lab -- which also handles fingerprint, DNA, and drug evidence -- was closed.

Among the officials announcing the closure was Kym Worthy, the Wayne County prosecutor, who is quoted as saying:
If we have even one person in prison on evidence that was improperly done,
that’s a huge problem. As prosecutors we completely rely on the findings
of police crime lab experts every day in court and we present this information
to juries. And when there are failures of this magnitude, there is a complete
betrayal of trust.

Quite right. But what makes this especially intriguing -- and, I must confess, chortle-inducing -- is that Worthy is a signatory to the prosecutors' amicus brief filed earlier this month in Melendez-Diaz (and previously posted on this blog), contending that an intolerable burden will be cast on the criminal justice system if live testimony by lab analysts is routinely required in drug cases.

But I'm happy to assume that Worthy deserves substantial credit for not attempting to delay the decision to close the lab until the Supreme Court decides Melendez-Diaz.