In today’s complex criminal justice system both judges and jurors are relying more heavily on scientific laboratory analysis and the conclusions of those findings in determining guilt and innocence in the courtroom. This may not be surprising given the public's familiarity with television shows such as CSI, Law and Order, Criminal Minds, and others as well as the occasional news broadcast showing law enforcement cracking the case through DNA comparison or some other type of forensic evidence. Additionally, breakthroughs in science have led to advanced methods of collecting and analyzing evidence. It is true that science has advanced the investigative capabilities of law enforcement and enhanced the ability of prosecutors to gain convictions in court with the use of this evidence; however, this can be a double edged sword. The advancements in science have also led to complex procedures and equipment that by their very nature lend themselves to mistakes that can affect results and contaminate the very evidence being offered against a defendant. There are three general areas that must be challenged by the defense team in cases involving these types of evidence. Your criminal defense lawyer must be well versed in discrediting this type of evidence.
The first area that must be evaluated is the collection of the evidence itself. Some may remember the O.J. Simpson trial where forensic evidence was challenged after news coverage of the crime scene revealed cross contamination of various pieces of evidence as they were being collected by evidence technicians. This led to the jury discounting the evidence and was at least to some extent responsible for the acquittal in the case. Police often fail to follow established procedures for collecting, handling, and transporting evidence. The skilled criminal defense attorneys at Boone Beale are excellent at challenging the prosecution’s handling of evidence. Problems can be caused by cross contamination, improper storage of items that causes deterioration of the evidence, and false findings due to heat damage, cold, moisture, and foreign material being mixed with evidence, and mislabeling which can cause evidence attributable to one defendant being mistaken for another. These are only some of the problems that can occur in collection procedures, and this is an area that should be given the utmost attention by the criminal defense team in evaluating cases where this type of evidence is relied upon by the prosecution.
A second area where close attention must be paid is in the actual analysis of the evidence in the laboratory. Here again there are very specific procedures to ensure the integrity of the evidence, and in cases where those procedures are not properly followed results can be unreliable. Failing to change gloves between handling samples, not properly cleaning work surfaces between analyses of each item, dirty or out of date pipettes and test tubes, and failing to properly clean equipment used for the analysis itself can all be issues. Proper calibration of machines can be another issue. Although hard to believe, many labs doing these tests are not even certified for the analysis of evidence and their maintenance of records is sloppy and in some cases non-existent. The criminal defense team in these cases must check records, interview technicians, and in some cases actually visit the labs themselves or through criminal defense experts to see what procedures are being employed and whether they comply with the required standards.
The third and sometimes most difficult area for the defense team to deal with pertains to the technicians and prosecution experts themselves. It is the technician or prosecution expert that will actually come into court to introduce evidence and explain what it is, the procedures used for its analysis, and what interpretations and conclusions may be drawn from their findings. These technicians and experts are clearly biased in favor of the prosecution and their presence requires the criminal defense team to be knowledgeable and persistent in cross-examination. Most will not volunteer information that could harm the prosecution, so the defense must be prepared to challenge every step of every procedure preformed to ensure that mistakes were not made. In addition, many of these so called experts are not as well qualified to render conclusions as might be expected. The criminal defense lawyers must be prepared to challenge studies, figures, and other supporting information upon which an expert’s conclusions are based. Often, when confronted, these experts have no scientific basis for their conclusions and cannot justify their findings when pressed. The criminal defense team must prepare for these possibilities as well as evaluate the need for a defense expert to counter the effects of the prosecution expert.
At Boone Beale we pride ourselves on having a diverse and knowledgeable staff of criminal defense attorneys who have the backgrounds and experiences that can assist in bypassing some of the obstacles to a successful defense. One attorney at Boone Beale has been both a state and federal prosecutor and has knowledge of what facilities are used, what procedures are followed, and how evidence will be specifically used in prosecuting a case. Another attorney has a background in law enforcement and possesses knowledge of police procedures, the proper collection, preservation, and transportation of evidence, and general investigative techniques. Still another has a medical background and can assist in analyzing and interpreting laboratory results and can determine whether proper procedures were employed and if those results should be challenged. Collectively, the criminal defense team at Boone Beale can pool resources from a unique group of skilled individuals and apply those vast resources to best serve your needs in a professional manner designed to address the needs of your specific case.