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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Washington State Calls for Improvements to Remedy Evidence Accuracy Problem

From seattlepi.com: After a series of reports criticizing the handling of evidence at Washington crime labs, the state's Forensic Investigations Council has weighed in, agreeing that an employee who falsely certified test results cast "a cloud of doubt" over the workings of the entire laboratory system.

But after making six recommendations for improvement, the group of local government representatives and pathologists who make up the council praised the majority of lab workers as "dedicated, hard-working" and honest.

They "certainly did not deserve to have the actions of two people affect the public perception of their work," the report concludes.

Doubts about the accuracy of the lab's breath-test results surfaced last summer, when toxicology lab manager Ann Marie Gordon was accused of signing off on scientific tests in cases she hadn't actually done.

Another employee, Evan Thompson, made technical errors and violated lab procedures when analyzing a bullet's trajectory.

Both have since resigned.

Though the State Patrol, which runs the labs, maintains that the inaccurate results were extremely limited, two judges in Skagit County and three in King County have challenged the credibility of DUI evidence from the toxicology lab.

To rectify the situation, the council recommended increased staffing, tougher criteria for accreditation and more frequent audits. It also recommended dividing oversight of the 220-employee, eight-lab system between two people, whereas it had previously been handled by one.

The crime lab system has now implemented 39 specific recommendations for improvement made in three separate audits. [Mark Godsey]

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