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How reliable are crime labs?

Two high-profile cases of severe misconduct at state crime labs made headlines during 2012, raising concerns about a sector of the criminal justice system that is often ignored despite being frighteningly underregulated.

One technician failed to identify and test significant DNA evidence in rape kits, leading to a review of over 800 cases in New York. Another crime lab employee in Boston admitted to rarely following proper procedures for evidence testing, cutting corners to work faster - which speed was actually praised by her superiors.

These may seem like egregious, isolated incidents but they point to a broader problem with crime labs. There are no national standards for crime labs and most don't require technicians to be certified. Strained state resources and a weak economy also mean applicants may not have the necessary skills and background for the work.

This is unsettling for both crime victims and defendants facing criminal charges. Improper handling of evidence means that the justice system is less able to secure justice for victims of a crime and may fail to prevent future offenses. This is particularly true of rape cases, in which perpetrators are more likely to re-offend than other offenders.

In addition, it is bad news for suspects going through the justice system and facing criminal charges. Cross-contamination of DNA evidence may lead to wrongful convictions or taint evidence that could be used to exonerate someone who has been improperly convicted.

If you are facing accusations of a crime or criminal charges, contact a criminal defense attorney right away. He or she can work with you to understand your unique situation and the charges brought against you, build a strong defense and work with the courts to pursue the fairest possible outcome, be it a lesser sentence, plea deal or complete dismissal of charges.

Source: Slate, "The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crimes Labs," Justin Peters, Jan. 14, 2013

To learn more about criminal charges in Colorado, please visit our website.

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