In March 2016, we wrote about the emerging scandal regarding the failure to properly verify drug samples at one of the New Jersey State Police Laboratory. The lab technician was accused of “dry labbing” positive test results. “Dry labbing” means that the technician simply asserts that the sample is indeed the substance in question without performing any lab work to confirm the result. “Dry labbing” has likely resulted in false convictions for possession of marijuana and potentially other substances in the state. Our Atlantic City drug charges defense lawyers explain further below.
While reports of a single instance of “dry labbing” are troubling, similar events that transpired in Massachusetts are beyond the pale. In Massachusetts and surrounding states, concerns have been raised due to a series of high-profile incidents involving drug lab technicians. The first indecent involved former chemist Annie Dookhan who was convicted of crimes stemming from her failures to properly test thousands of drug samples, the tendency to mix-up samples, and forged signatures. In all, about 60,000 cases were impacted by Dookhan’s failures. The second incident involved a lab technician, Sonja Farak, who, over a nearly ten-year period, stole drug samples from the lab, replaced evidence of drugs with facsimiles, and used methamphetamines and other drugs while conducting her job duties.
Considering the troubling events that have occurred in New Jersey and in Massachusetts, New Jersey officials have announced their intention to implement new testing procedures that should be less susceptible to fraud and falsification.
How Were Samples of Marijuana Authenticated by the Lab Previously?
Following the announcement of the testing problems at the New Jersey State Police lab, the state’s Public Defender’s Office requested for the court to rule that traditional method of testing drug samples was not scientifically reliable and therefore acceptable for legal purposes. While the court declined to take this action, New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice is implementing measures that moot the need for this step by the court.
The traditional testing method is likely significantly less scientific than most people would otherwise assume. The method relies largely upon physical characteristics and identification based on visual cues. Essentially, the sample is subject to a color test and visual inspection under a microscope. Defendant advocacy groups have warned that this method of identification of marijuana is scientifically suspect and susceptible to fraud.
What Testing Methods will Now be Used to Verify that a Sample Is Marijuana or another CDS?
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice, has announced that the state is moving away from the traditional testing methods. Rather, the state will now employ testing known as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry instrument test. This type of testing combines the features of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify the component parts of what makes up a sample. This method of testing is often described as the “gold standard” because it can perform a 100% specific test. A specific test positively or negatively identifies the presence of a particular substance.
What Should You Do if Your Conviction Is Based on False Lab Testing?
If your conviction is based on falsified or otherwise unreliable identification of a controlled dangerous substance, such as marijuana, you likely have appeal options available. However, appealing a criminal conviction or setting aside a guilty plea is often an uphill battle. It typically requires significant legal work including identifying factual and legal errors and numerous court filings. However, for individuals who are incarcerated or convicted on the basis of misidentified samples, these improprieties do open the door to a possibility that your conviction may be able to be overturned.
Work with an Experienced and Aggressive Atlantic City Drug Charges Defense Lawyer Serving South Jersey
If you are facing criminal drug charges, you may face charges that could result in a lengthy prison sentence. Aside from the formal consequences of a criminal conviction, informal consequences include the stigma of being a felon also attach. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our Margate marijuana charges defense lawyers believe that no innocent individual should be forced to pay the high cost of a criminal conviction. Our lawyers are committed to fighting aggressively and strategically for all of our clients.
To schedule a free and confidential initial consultation at our Atlantic City, Wildwood, Cape May, or Northfield law offices call (609) 616-4956 today.