Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tip of the Iceberg: DWI Conviction Tossed Based On Errors At Nassau County Crime Lab

The Nassau County crime lab on Long Island has been shuttered by the county district attorney over ongoing problems with the lab. The situation has thrown the outcomes of hundreds of cases into doubt, particularly DUI/DWI and other drug offenses, and one such DWI case was thrown out by a judge yesterday.
Continuing questions about the reliability of tests done in Nassau County’s now-shuttered crime laboratory led a judge to overturn a drunken driving conviction on Monday.

Judge George R. Peck of Nassau County Court cited prosecutors’ own statements in court about errors in the laboratory and a possible cover-up of them in his decision to grant a new trial to Erin Marino, 30, of Hicksville.

A national accreditation agency placed the laboratory on probation in December after finding procedural and policy violations in drug testing. As evidence of more widespread problems emerged, the Nassau district attorney, Kathleen M. Rice, called for the entire laboratory to be closed on Feb. 18.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has asked the office of the state inspector general, Ellen Nachtigall Biben, to investigate the lab’s conduct.

Ms. Marino was charged with vehicular assault, drunken driving and related charges stemming from a June 2009 accident. She was convicted on some of those counts after a monthlong trial last year, her lawyer, Brian Griffin, said.

At the trial, Mr. Griffin argued that there were problems with the blood testing that was used to prove Ms. Marino’s blood-alcohol level. But the defense was not informed about the problems in the laboratory.

After her conviction, Ms. Marino filed a motion contending that what had come to light constituted new evidence that could have changed the verdict and warranted a new trial. The same argument could apply in other cases that involve evidence tested at the laboratory, Mr. Griffin noted.

Drug cases dating to late 2007 are being reviewed for signs of errors.

“Any citizen deserves evidence that comes out in their trial to be within the guidelines of proper scientific protocol,” Mr. Griffin said. “When you convict somebody based on tainted evidence, that conviction generally should not and will not stand.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney said the prosecutor would appeal the decision to overturn the conviction.
State and local investigators are looking into the malfeasance at the crime lab, which could have led to the wrongful conviction of hundreds of people based on inaccurate lab results. Lab workers failed to adhere to protocols, which could lead to incorrect measurements and that, in turn, could lead to harsher convictions/sentencing of drug offenses that are based on quantities than they should have been.

The judge also chastised the DA, Kathleen Rice, who admitted that there were issues at the crime lab, while attempting to uphold the conviction of Ms. Marino.
Noting that District Attorney Kathleen Rice publicly questioned the lab results herself when she ordered it shut, Nassau County Court Judge George Peck questioned the defense of a disputed conviction.

How, he asked, could prosecutors “publicly give a vote of no confidence to the laboratory results, and then in good conscience argue in a court of law that the factors which form the basis of no confidence be excluded?”

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