Why we cannot trust blood alcohol and drug testing at the state lab?

iStock_000023934327SmallVery little is publicly known about the procedures, methods and personnel of blood alcohol testing. Considering the potentially profound impact it has on an accused drunk driver’s life blood alcohol and drug testing for criminal cases should be the subject of close oversight and scrutiny. Mistakes could likely cost someone their freedom, their job and the well being of their family.  Sadly, testing blood alcohol and drug testing is not as sacred as you would think or hope.

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division (MSP-FSD) is responsible for all of the alcohol and drug testing of blood for criminal DUI OWI prosecutions in the entire state. They receive between 50 to 75 unknown samples per day, over 16,000 per year, to test.

A barber must be licensed by the state to cut your hair but a forensic scientist testing blood for alcohol and drugs does not. In fact, of the 12 forensic scientists that are responsible all of the blood testing for the entire state, most have not had any professional experience in a laboratory before working for the Michigan State Police. Many have no experience of forensic blood alcohol and drug testing, even in school, until they have been hired by the forensic science division and then they receive on the job training.

The MSP-FSD lab in severely under funded and understaffed. Did you know that the average time it takes to test blood for drugs is four to six months? That means if a person is arrested for driving under the influence of marijuana, their case will not be prosecuted for up to a half a year. Many people think their case got lost in the system only to be arrested several months later with an unknowing warrant or sent a ticket in the mail with an order to go to court.

Those 12 scientists have directions to analyze a given number of samples in a period of time. For alcohol a MSP forensic scientist prepares and analyzes 65 unknown blood samples at a time and it takes about one day. Imagine if, at the end of the day the scientist discovers a mistake in any part of that process. The correct protocol would be to start all over again. Whether they do or not is largely left up to them and if they choose not to, most lawyers that do not check the data from their cases and would never know. Therefore, forensic scientists can make mistakes which lead to unreliable results and most often, they get away with it. The accused drunk drivers are told their blood test must be accurate because their attorney does not know how to check it or what to look for. Most criminal defense attorneys, including many “drunk driving specialists” presume every blood test is accurate and non challengeable.  The truth is that every blood test must be investigated and scrutinized by a specialist to discover if a poor analysis has made the test unreliable.

If a scientist continues to operate without proper supervision, the potential for pervasive fraud can exist in the lab. Don’t believe me? A state forensic scientist in Boston recently perpetrated “one of the most far reaching frauds in Massachusetts history” by declaring drug samples positive that she did not even bother to test, tampered with evidence, forged signatures and lied about her credentials to enhance her testimony in court to support her results. After nine years on the job at the Massachusetts laboratory Annie Dookhan was caught forging a co-worker’s initials. An investigation determined that over 40,000 samples were now questionable involving tens of thousands of defendants. She plead guilty to 27 counts including obstruction of justice, perjury, tampering with evidence and fraud. On November 21, 2013 she was sentenced to three to five years in prison.

As is common in state forensic laboratories, the scientists are under pressure to complete a certain number of tests in a short period of time. When a lab is understaffed, the scientists are under more pressure to timely complete their work. Initial audits of Dookhan’s work, similar to audits conducted by the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Department, found nothing wrong.

Countless numbers of individuals were incarcerated based upon the results of Dookhan’s tests. In September defendants began to be released. So far there have been over 300 defendants released from prison or jail because of the Dookan Boston lab scandal. Many of those defendants went on to commit additional crimes including at least one who committed a murder and was then put back in jail. Others have been arrested and re committed for drugs and weapons possession.

Further, the State of Massachusetts set aside 30 million dollars to re investigate all of the cases in which Dookhan was involved.

The Dookan lab scandal is not the only one. In May of 2013 the forensic toxicology lab in Denver Colorado was forced to re analyze 1700 samples after learning that an employee failed to follow the lab’s protocols.

Forensic laboratories all over the country are subject to pervasive error that compromises the integrity of their tests. The best way to ensure that a lab’s testing is accurate is to have a qualified attorney review their analysis on every case. But, unfortunately, when the lab knows that their work is not under constant scrutiny by the defense, they are more likely to be inspired to perform sloppy and unreliable work.

If you have a DUI OWI case with a blood alcohol or marijuana test the best advice is to hire an attorney who is an trained in blood alcohol and drug testing, a specialist like the Law Office of Barton Morris who not only knows exactly how the MSP FSD works but regularly reviews every client’s blood test and knows how to discover tests that are not reliable. Further, the Law Office of Barton Morris is one of only a few attorneys in Michigan that owns the same software the lab uses to analyze the raw data produced by the lab instruments. Barton Morris is also a member of the American Academy of Forensic Science and keeps abreast on recent developments in the field.

If you or a loved one has a DUI OWI case in the Metro Detroit Counties of Oakland, Wayne or Macomb county cities of Troy, Royal Oak, Warren, Southfield, Bloomfield Hills, Sterling Heights, Detroit, Westland, or other surrounding areas call the Law Office of Barton Morris who was voted two times as a Top Attorney in Metro Detroit for DUI Defense.

Attorney Morris has enjoyed a very successful and distinguished career as a trial lawyer providing high quality legal representation in the area of state and federal criminal defense for 19 years. He is known for his trial preparation by fellow attorneys, judges and clients alike. As a trial attorney, he is dedicated to attaining justice in every case, and is prepared to take on complex legal issues with success. Barton and his law firm pride themselves on obtaining results for their clients that other attorneys cannot. Not only does Barton Morris have extensive experience, he also engages in continuing legal education to provide the highest quality legal services. Barton has received specialized scientific training through the American Chemical Society. He attended the prestigious Trial Lawyers College and serves on its Alumni Association Board of Directors. Barton Morris is also a board member of several distinguished legal associations including the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, and the DUI Defense Lawyer’s Association Justice Foundation. He is also an active member of the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys and has also graduated from their National Criminal Defense Trial College in Macon, Georgia. Barton Morris was chosen as a Top Lawyer of Metro Detroit for 2012, 2013 & 2014 for DUI/DWI and criminal defense by DBusiness Magazine and Hour Magazine. Barton Morris was also chosen as a Super Lawyer in Criminal Defense for 2014-2017 and Barton Morris is the only Lawyer in Michigan designated by the American Chemical Society as a “Forensic Lawyer-Scientist”
November 25th, 2013|