CRIME LAB PROBLEMS: A DISASTER FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTY
By Legislator Joseph Scannell (D-BALDWIN)
When I first heard about the problems at the Nassau County Police Department's Crime Lab a few months ago, I had hoped it was an internal problem that could be easily remedied with new policies and better scrutiny. Unfortunately, the problem there has only worsened in the ensuing months and is now looming as a major disaster for our county.
We now know that inadequately trained technicians and improper labeling were just the tip of the iceberg. Poor management and negligence flourished in one of our more sensitive departments. Tainted evidence is unacceptable in any crime lab. What astonishes me is the depth of the neglect. Steps should have been taken a long time ago to correct the deficiencies there. It appears that the lab has been mismanaged for years. It is mind-boggling that District Attorney Kathleen Rice was not notified the crime lab was placed on probation in 2006.
Efforts to repair the situation never panned out. So last month the crime lab was shut down. All our criminal evidence analysis has been farmed out to other laboratories.
The worst of this nightmare is that innocent people may have been convicted on bad evidence. And guilty people may have been set free for the same reason.
Just last week we saw the first of what may be many conviction reversals. A woman who was convicted of driving while impaired had her guilty verdict tossed out and a new trial ordered. D.A Rice is currently examining drug samples from other trials. Over 3000 cases dating back several years.
D.A Rice has notified defendants who were convicted on County crime lab evidence analysis that they may be entitled to new trials. We could be re-trying hundreds or thousands of cases. Justice demands nothing less.
I respectfully call upon the Nassau County Legislature’s presiding officer, Peter Schmitt, to call for hearings on this issue to seek testimony from law enforcement officials so we can better determine how to avoid a similar crisis in the future. I would like to hear specific proposals from appropriate State and Federal Agencies as well as from our District Attorney, Kathleen Rice.
There is no denying that serious mistakes were made at the Police Crime Lab and they were compounded over time. These investigations, efforts to repair a failed system and the renewed litigation to afford defendants another chance to prove their innocence will cost Nassau County taxpayers plenty. Expensive as it will be, we must see it through. The right to a fair trial is paramount. What is at stake here is the very integrity of our criminal justice system.
Legislator Joe Scannell is a former Nassau County Assistant District Attorney