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

Posted: July 18, 2007 1:17 pm

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.



Tags: Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Wisconsin

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Innocence Network files Supreme Court brief for right to challenge forensic evidence

Posted: June 24, 2008 12:18 pm

Arguing that the right of defendants to challenge forensic evidence is critical to prevent wrongful convictions, the Innocence Network filed a brief yesterday in a U.S. Supreme Court case to be heard later this year. In the case, Luis Melendez-Diaz is challenging his 2002 drug-related conviction in Massachusetts, arguing that he was denied the right to cross-examine a state analyst who prepared a report on forensic testing in the case. The Supreme Court has ruled that trial evidence is not admissible unless the defendant can cross-examine the witness. The Massachusetts high court said this doesn’t apply to a forensic expert’s lab report.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the Innocence Network (an association of nonprofit legal clinics and criminal justice resource centers of which the Innocence Project is a founding member) argues that the Massachusetts Court’s position assumes that lab reports are fact and not subject to interpretation, saying this “rests entirely on a myth of infallibility – a myth that finds no basis in the reality of state forensic practices throughout the country.”

Read today’s Innocence Project press release on the case, download the full Amicus brief (PDF), or read more about Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts on the SCOTUS wiki.





Tags: Massachusetts

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Friday roundup

Posted: September 5, 2008 3:07 pm

New projects and investigations launched this week by innocence organizations, law schools, prosecutors and attorneys general across the country show the momentum nationwide to overturn wrongful convictions and address the root causes of wrongful conviction to prevent future injustice. Here’s this week’s roundup:

Questions were raised about standards of DNA collection and preservation in Massachusetts after improper procedures were revealed in a high-profile case. Mass. is one of 25 states without a DNA preservation law.

The Mississippi Attorney General said this week that the state is underfunding DNA tests and DNA collection and a new task force is examining the state problem.

San Jose opened California’s largest crime lab, training began in Maryland before a new law expanding the state’s database took effect and cutbacks in Georgia led to furloughs for prosecutors and could cause lab closings.

The Midwest Innocence Project this week launched an investigation into a 1988 fire that killed six Kansas City firemen and led to the conviction of five people who say they’re innocent. The North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, a first-of-its-kind panel dedicated to investigating cases of possible wrongful conviction, finished reviewing its first case, deciding that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the conviction of Henry A. Reeves. And  Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins asked county officials to allow filming in his offices in coming months for a Discovery Channel documentary.

Some of the best policy analysis and research to help improve our criminal justice system comes, of course, from our nation’s law schools – and now many of those schools have blogs. Marquette University Law School launched a new faculty law blog, and a post by Keith Sharfman finds that “blogging’s potential as a medium for serious legal discourse can no longer be doubted.” 

A column on Law.com asks: “Is the future of legal scholarship in the blogosphere?”

Here at the Innocence Project, we read law school blogs everyday. Among our favorites are Crim Prof Blog and Evidence Prof Blog

New York University Law School has formed a new Center on the Administration of Criminal Law, which will seek to promote “good government practices in criminal matters.”



Tags: California, North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Texas, Innocence Commissions, Evidence Preservation, Access to DNA Testing, DNA Databases

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City of Boston Seeks to Remove Judge from Civil Suit

Posted: November 18, 2008 3:25 pm

Ulysses Rodriguez Charles, who was exonerated in 2001 after serving 17 years in Massachusetts prison for a rape he didn’t commit, is facing deportation by U.S. immigration authorities at the same time his wrongful conviction civil suit against the city of Boston is pending.

And now lawyers for the city want U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner to recuse herself from the case, saying that she showed “deep-seated favoritism and antagonism” in comments she made alleging that the city may have worked with immigration officials to deport Charles before his April civil trial.But Charles said last week that Gertner's comments were "extremely intuitive" and that the city is simply "judge shopping."

"I think they want it to be biased, and they see that she's fair," Charles, 58, said from his mother's house in the South End. "They thought they would get a judge who's pro-government because I'm suing the government. But she's extremely familiar with the underhanded tactics of the Boston Police Department."Read the full story here. (Boston Globe, 11/17/08)
 



Tags: Massachusetts, Ulysses Rodriguez Charles

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Massachusetts Man Celebrates Six Years of Freedom

Posted: March 5, 2010 5:30 pm

Six years ago this week, Anthony Powell was officially exonerated of the 1991 rape and kidnapping of a Massachusetts teenager. Powell was convicted in 1992 and served more than 12 years of his sentence before being cleared by DNA testing.

Having been convicted as a result of eyewitness misidentification, Powell maintained his innocence throughout his incarceration. His attorneys, however, could not obtain DNA testing on biological evidence held by police until in 2004, when Boston Police and Suffolk County prosecutors undertook an investigation to re-examine old sexual assault cases. An attorney from the Committee for Public Counsel Services was appointed on Powell’s behalf, and she managed to obtain DNA testing on the remaining biological evidence. The results excluded both Powell and the victim’s former boyfriend as the source of semen found in the rape victim.

At a hearing held after DNA testing excluded Powell, his defense attorney requested a new trial and the prosecutor agreed. Superior Court Judge Robert Mulligan, who presided at Powell’s original trial, overturned the conviction and closed the door on a re-trial, stating that the evidence “strongly supports the conclusion that Mr. Powell did not commit the rape in 1991.” That afternoon, for the first time since 1992, Powell walked out of the courthouse as a free man.

Moreover, the DNA profile extracted from the remaining biological evidence was forwarded to state and national databases, and matched a man who was charged in 2008 for the original rape. The city of Boston would later settle a civil suit brought by Powell in December 2008 for $3.8 million. Powell was also awarded an additional $500,000 under the state’s wrongful conviction compensation statute.

Most recently, in attempts to prevent wrongful convictions like those of Powell, the Boston Bar Association called attention to the state’s need for a comprehensive statute that provides access to DNA testing. Massachusetts is one of only three states that lack post-conviction DNA access. Find out more here.

Other Exoneree Anniversaries This Week:

David Allen Jones, California (Served 9 years, Exonerated 3/4/04)

Roy Brown, New York (Served, 15 years, Exonerated 3/5/07)



Tags: Massachusetts, Anthony Powell, Eyewitness Misidentification

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Massachusetts Exoneree's Record Expunged, Nine Years Later

Posted: August 20, 2012 4:00 pm

Dennis Maher speaks at the 2010 Innocence Network Conference in Atlanta. (Photo: Curtis McCarty)
 
Nearly a decade after DNA evidence exonerated Dennis Maher of two 1983 rapes he did not commit, the courts have finally expunged his criminal record. Though Maher had been compensated and his honorable military record restored, his name had not been fully cleared.
 
Maher, an Army sergeant, spent 19 years in prison for the crimes. He was spotted near the crime scene shortly after one of the incidents wearing a red hooded sweatshirt similar to the one worn by the perpetrator. No other evidence linked Maher to the sexual assaults, but he was convicted in two separate trials and sentenced to life in prison. His initial requests for DNA testing were ignored, and police claimed that all biological evidence from his case had been destroyed. With the help of the Innocence Project, he was exonerated in April 2003.
 
According to the Lowell Sun, Maher and his family used the occasion to celebrate.


Surrounded by his family at a two-story home in North Tewksbury with a big backyard, Maher said he is relieved to have this last cloud lifted finally from his record.
 
"But I don't dwell on the past," he said.
 
Though records in such cases are usually expunged, they weren't in Maher's case. And since the arrests and charges still used to come up on his record, getting a passport and traveling out of the country was very difficult. "Too many hoops to jump through," he said.
 
For that reason, he and his family have never traveled outside of the country, although they want to go places like Niagara Falls or Toronto to visit friends. But they now plan to do so, later this year.
 
"It started in 1983," Maher said. "And now, it's nearly 30 years later -- and it's closure."

For most exonerees, having their criminal record expunged is a separate legal procedure and doesn’t occur automatically upon exoneration. Though the Innocence Project doesn’t keep statistics on the subject, a number of our former clients are still fighting to be fully cleared and have their records expunged.
 
Read the full article.
 
Read more about Maher’s case.



Tags: Massachusetts, Dennis Maher

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Science Thursday - September 13, 2012

Posted: September 13, 2012 12:45 pm

Massachusetts is investigating the work of a drug analyst that might lead to a review of tens of thousands of cases, forensic evidence from the West Memphis 3 trials are reviewed, and coroners in Kentucky push for funding for a medical examiner. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
 
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick stated that there will be criminal and civil consequences for the "breakdown in oversight" that shuttered a state police crime lab drug unit.
 
Drug evidence from the St. Paul Police Crime Lab continues to be scrutinized. Pre-trial hearings are now focusing on whether the leftover evidence that could be retested might be contaminated.
 
Fibers which were once said to be "similar” to samples retrieved from the homes of two members of the West Memphis Three are now being questioned by three different forensic scientists.
 
A former Missouri medical examiner, who lost his medical license in the state and was fired from another medical examiner position in Florida, is now being investigated for keeping body parts in a storage unit.
 
A group of coroners in Kentucky worked together to save a medical examiner position in their state budget.



Tags: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - September 20, 2012

Posted: September 20, 2012 2:40 pm

A Massachusetts crime lab scandal intensifies while a North Carolina crime lab sets a new precedent for accreditation. Here’s this week’s round up of forensic news:
 
Amidst growing allegations of misdeeds at the Massachusetts state crime lab, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach resigned on Monday. As commissioner, Auerbach admits that he “shares accountability for the breakdown in oversight.”
 
The North Carolina State Crime Laboratory adopts new working standards in order to become the first lab in the United States that holds accreditation from both the American Society of Crime Lab Director Lab Accreditation Board (ASCLD-LAB) and Forensic Quality Services (FSQ).
 
A recent discovery by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate student might affect how crime scene investigators use knowledge of insect behavior to determine the relative time of death. Further research to discern blood spatter from insect activity at a crime scene is being funded by the National Institute of Justice.



Tags: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - October 18, 2012

Posted: October 18, 2012 6:00 pm





Tags: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Ohio, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - October 25, 2012

Posted: October 25, 2012 4:30 pm





Tags: California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Science Thursday

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Massachusetts Attorney General Calls for Review of State Lab

Posted: November 1, 2012 5:45 pm





Tags: Massachusetts

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Science Thursday - November 15, 2012

Posted: November 15, 2012 9:00 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas

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Science Thursday - November 29, 2012

Posted: November 29, 2012 3:00 pm





Tags: Colorado, District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - December 6, 2012

Posted: December 6, 2012 2:30 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Nebraska, West Virginia, Washington

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Science Thursday - December 13, 2012

Posted: December 13, 2012 12:15 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, New York, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - December 20, 2012

Posted: December 20, 2012 2:00 pm





Tags: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - January 3, 2013

Posted: January 3, 2013 1:20 pm





Tags: Alabama, Massachusetts, Washington, Science Thursday

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Harvard Law Meets an Innocent Man

Posted: January 25, 2013 12:00 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Dennis Maher

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Science Thursday - January 31, 2013

Posted: January 31, 2013 6:25 pm





Tags: District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - February 7, 2013

Posted: February 7, 2013 1:40 pm





Tags: North Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Science Thursday

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Science Thursday - February 28, 2013

Posted: February 28, 2013 4:10 pm





Tags: Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas, Vermont, Science Thursday

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Science News - March 15, 2013

Posted: March 15, 2013 4:35 pm





Tags: Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, Ohio, Science Thursday

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Science News - April 4, 2013

Posted: April 4, 2013 3:25 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia, New York, Science Thursday

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More Trouble for Massachusetts Crime Labs

Posted: April 5, 2013 5:45 pm





Tags: Massachusetts

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Science News - April 18, 2013

Posted: April 18, 2013 4:10 pm





Tags: California, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, Science Thursday

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Science News - May 16, 2013

Posted: May 16, 2013 4:00 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Nebraska, Washington, New York, Science Thursday

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Science News - May 30, 2013

Posted: May 30, 2013 4:25 pm





Tags: Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas

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Science News - June 27, 2013

Posted: June 27, 2013 1:45 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Virginia, New York, Science Thursday

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Science News - August 22, 2013

Posted: August 22, 2013 3:05 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Virginia, Science Thursday

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Science News - August 29, 2013

Posted: August 29, 2013 11:50 am





Tags: Arizona, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, Science Thursday

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Massachusetts Lab Tech to Plead Guilty to Mishandling Evidence

Posted: November 22, 2013 4:00 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Unvalidated/Improper Forensics, Crime Lab Backlogs

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City of Boston to Pay Wrongly Convicted Man $5 Million

Posted: May 15, 2014 5:30 pm





Tags: Massachusetts

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Shaken Baby Cases to be Reviewed

Posted: August 11, 2014 5:45 pm





Tags: Massachusetts

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Massachusetts to Evaluate How Eyewitness Identification Testimony is Presented and Evaluated in Court

Posted: August 28, 2014 1:30 pm





Tags: Massachusetts, Eyewitness Identification

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Massachusetts at Forefront of Reforming Treatment of Eyewitness Identification Evidence in Court

Posted: August 29, 2014 11:10 am





Tags: Massachusetts

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Boston Globe Says Hold Prosecutors Accountable for Errors

Posted: October 21, 2014 6:05 pm





Tags: Massachusetts

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