It seems that the general public places an almost unshakeable belief in science and lab test results. Whether it involves a drug test result or the analyzation of DNA evidence, many people seem to think that the test result is beyond reproach. While there is some reason to maintain a certain level of trust in scientific tests that have been demonstrated to be accurate and reliable, it is important to remember that no test is foolproof. Furthermore, while the underlying scientific principles may be well-supported or established, it is essential to remember that the actual testing procedure is carried out by a human. And thus, no process carried out by a human is foolproof or failsafe because people make mistakes for a variety of reasons.
Unfortunately, allegations regarding particularly egregious behavior by a New Jersey State police lab tech responsible for verifying controlled dangerous substances, such as marijuana, have emerged through a recent statement by the Passaic County Office of the Public Defender. The findings in this matter are believed to impact nearly 8,000 drug cases throughout the state of New Jersey.
NJ State Police Indicate that More Than 7,000 Drug Cases Are Likely to be Impacted by Lab Tech’s “Dry Labeling”
While most cases of mistakes in the lab come down to simple human error, recent allegations regarding one lab tech’s practices in the lab paint a picture that is unflattering to the state’s testing procedures. According to claims, New Jersey State Police lab technician, Kamalkant Shah, was observed to have “dry labbed” one sample that was suspected marijuana. “Dry labbed” means that the individual simply made-up or relied on a hunch to identify a lab specimen. In the letter from the Office of the Public Defender the practice was described as, “Basically, he was observed writing ‘test results’ for suspected marijuana that was never tested.” In other words, the lab tech allegedly fabricated results that, if not detected, would have received treatment as scientifically verified evidence.
According to the same letter, the lab tech has been employed by the lab for roughly ten years from 2005 to 2015. While there was only one observed incidence of conduct of this type, the allegations regarding the test and the procedures and practices employed has called into question the veracity of all previous testing by this particular lab tech. Furthermore, the gravity of potentially erroneous testing results that may have led to unjustified criminal convictions cannot be understated.
What Effect on Previous Criminal Drug Convictions Will this News Have?
While the testing performed by the lab was for cases concentrated in northern New Jersey, it is believed that the lab provided testing services statewide and that criminal cases in all counties may be affected. While the state prosecutor’s office has stated that it plans to re-test specimens from open cases, the issue of what occurs in closed cases where a conviction was secured on the basis of potentially false lab results remains unresolved. In many closed cases, the specimens of suspected controlled substances have already been destroyed. How the prosecutor’s offices will decide to handle these matters remains to be seen, however, this may open the door for appeal for thousands of defendants.
How Do Lab Testing Errors Occur?
The above allegations represent a particularly egregious claim of misconduct. In most cases lab testing errors occur due to the constraints and problems that affect all businesses. Namely, this is the level of funding and resources required to ensure adequate staffing levels in the lab or other business along with the human error. Insufficient staffing levels increase the odds that mistakes like mislabeled samples, switched samples, and improper testing procedures occur. However, even in the absence of understaffing and budgetary constraints, occurrences as simple as a poor night’s sleep or an illness can lead to mistakes in the testing process. While mistakes in certain lines of work can certainly occur with minimal consequences, mistakes in the State Police Laboratories can have harsh and life-altering consequences for individuals wrongly accused of possessing drugs or other drug crimes.
Facing Drug Charges? Hire an Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing serious criminal drug charges in New Jersey, you potentially face a lengthy prison sentence and other life-altering consequences. Drug convictions can make people ineligible for certain government student loans and social services like federal housing aid. If you have been charged with a drug crime in New Jersey, contact the aggressive and strategic Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers of the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today by calling (609) 616-4956 or contact us online.