Criminal Justice

A Forensics Disaster in Detroit

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Detroit's crime lab may have a ten percent rate of error:

The Police Department here shut down its crime laboratory on Thursday after an audit uncovered serious errors in numerous cases. The audit said sloppy work had probably resulted in wrongful convictions, and officials expect a wave of appeals in cases that the laboratory processed.

The interim mayor, Kenneth V. Cockrel Jr., and the new police chief, James Barren, ordered the laboratory closed; Mr. Cockrel called the audit's conclusions "shocking and appalling." Pending and future cases will be sent to the Michigan State Police, which operates seven laboratories.

Officials from the Detroit Police Department, the Wayne County prosecutor's office and the State Police will try to determine whether the errors resulted in guilty verdicts against innocent people.

"We do not want any of our activities to result in someone being imprisoned that doesn't belong there," the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym L. Worthy, said at a news conference with Mr. Cockrel and Mr. Barren. Ms. Worthy said the mistakes also might have let violent criminals remain at large.

David E. Balash, a retired State Police official who consults on firearms cases, said the audit's findings could lead to payouts of hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

"I would have never anticipated that it would have been this systemic," Mr. Balash said. "It's almost incomprehensible."

Disturbing as all of that is, the city is at least acknowledging the mistakes and doing what it can to correct them.  Which is more than we can say for Mississippi.

Roger Koppl and I discuss how to ensure more reliable forensic evidence in criminal cases here.