Earlier this month, we began discussing some of the broad practical implications of the recent Colorado state crime lab scandal. We noted that when one element of the criminal justice system broadly or the ability of citizen’s to mount a full and fair criminal defense specifically is questioned, society rightly begins to question every other element of the system. If the integrity of the system is questioned, it can be difficult for society to believe firmly that the system will regularly produce just results.
The state lab is not currently processing criminal evidence and labs. In an effort to restore the integrity of the system, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suspended operations at the state lab temporarily in the wake of the scandal. Unfortunately, criminal justice advocates and criminal defense attorneys across the state are concerned about the integrity of the process being put in place until the state lab is up and running again.
While the state lab is closed, criminal evidence lab work is being sent to private institutions for analysis. There is a reason why the state operates its own evidence lab rather than outsourcing the work to private companies. There is far less oversight when such work is conducted outside the immediate authority of the state.
In addition, the retesting of evidence potentially tainted by the state lab scandal and an already frustrating evidentiary backlog may pressure private labs to work with more speed and less care when processing these samples. It is critical for the health of the state’s criminal justice system as a whole that each of these concerns is taken seriously and addressed to the satisfaction of experts concerned about this recent shift from public labs to private.
Source: Coloradoan, “Private labs take over Colorado crime blood tests after potentially tainted results,” July 8, 2013