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31,000 Criminal Cases Under Review After Detroit Crime Lab Closes

After the police crime lab in Detroit, Michigan was found to have provided faulty firearm ballistics evidence in criminal cases, the lab was closed in 2008. A subsequent review of around 31,000 firearm-related prosecutions was deemed “admittedly impossible work,” said Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy.

Indifferent city officials delayed investigating those cases. Finally, in July 2010, Worthy obtained $2.7 million to review them. She hired three attorneys, other legal experts and support workers to retest the evidence and examine voluminous transcripts and court records.

Of the 31,000 firearm-related cases, only 270 had been closed as of June 2011. Worthy’s office prioritized the cases to focus on those involving defendants who were still in prison on firearm possession charges and cases challenged by defense attorneys. Thus far, four prisoners have received retrials; one was exonerated.

When the crime lab closed, legal experts predicted there would be thousands of requests for review. Yet defense attorneys have sought review just 34 times.

“I feel very strongly that we have to continue going through these cases,” said Worthy. “It’s frustrating. We’re the only ones who did anything with these cases.

In May 2011, the crime lab’s dilapidated building was found unsecured. It was littered with crime scene photos, chemicals, sealed bags marked with evidence labels, live ammunition, bulletproof vests and thousands of files – some of which contained the Social Security numbers of rape and assault victims.

“We were told that the evidence had been inventoried, packaged, and moved out of the old crime lab to a secure and appropriate location,” said Worthy, though apparently that information was incorrect.

“This is just another glaring example of what is now an epidemic in crime lab negligence,” stated Drew Findling, who chairs the Forensic Discipline Committee for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

The cleanup at the crime lab’s abandoned building concluded in June 2011 with the State Police investigating how the evidence and other items were left behind, but the review of the criminal cases possibly affected by faulty lab work continues.

PLN has previously reported on scandals and shoddy forensics work at crime labs across the nation. [See: PLN, Jan. 2012, p.26; June 2011, p.32; Oct. 2010, p.1; Jan. 2010, p.32].

Sources: Detroit Free Press, Associated Press

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