Drug-testing laboratories under scrutiny following major errors

This blog has commented in select prior posts about the critically important role that trust must play in our criminal justice system in Georgia and nationally. In its absence, notions of fundamental fairness for persons suspected of crimes and facing the immeasurable powers of the police, investigators and prosecutors are out the window.

“The most important thing is that people have faith in our system,” says Michael O’Keefe, the president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

O’Keefe knows well of what he speaks, given the monumental and even unprecedented loss of faith by many residents of his state in an important weapon in the government’s criminal investigatory arsenal.

That is drug testing, with what has happened in Massachusetts setting off alarm bells in that state and also eliciting grave concerns across the country among defense attorneys, civil liberty advocates, the families of persons accused of drug crimes and many other people.

One commentator on the matter says that the problem that has publicly emerged in Massachusetts — namely, glaring forensic problems and outright falsification of drug tests in a state lab — “is far and away the most serious problem that we have ever become aware of in this country.”

Yet it is sadly capable of repetition, and several other states have in fact noted disturbing problems. In Texas, the work of just one analyst in a state crime lab is suspect in about 4,000 drug cases. In Colorado, there are estimates of more than 1,000 tainted testing results.

Several hundred persons charged with drug crimes have been released in Massachusetts, but that number pales in light of what authorities say are approximately 34,000 compromised drug tests in that state.

As a result of multiple state laboratory investigations across the country recently following the Massachusetts fiasco, it is likely that additional problems of note will be discovered.

Source: WBUR, “Texas, Colo. coping with their own lab testing crises,” Deborah Becker, June 20, 2013