Privatization

Report: New York State Crime Lab Tainted by Incompetence, Corruption, Indifference

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This week, New York State's inspector general issued a blistering critique of the state's crime lab. The report came after a private accrediting organization found significant problems with one particular lab worker who had so little training that he couldn't operate the microscope he was supposed to be using for hair and fiber analysis. Armed with a cheat sheet from a former supervisor, Gary Veeder managed to fake lab reports in criminal cases for 15 years. He killed himself last year.

A wayward crime lab worker who fakes his way into the job is one thing. A fraud who manages to stay on the job for 15 years is a symptom of mass institutional failure. And that's the most disturbing part of the story. The institutional failure continued even after the embarrasing episode was exposed. From the New York Times:

…when the State Police became aware of the analyst's misconduct, an internal review by superiors in the Albany lab deliberately omitted information implicating other analysts and suggesting systemic problems with the way evidence was handled, the report said. Instead, the review focused blame mostly on…Veeder…

Mr. Veeder's allegations involving other lab workers were never part of the final report to the State Police's internal affairs division. State Police investigators and the lab's management "minimized and precipitously discarded the seriousness and extent of problems" at the lab, the inspector general's report said.

It said that one State Police investigator, Keith Coonrod, mischaracterized Mr. Veeder's responses implicating other lab scientists and skewed Mr. Veeder's statements to give the impression that it was his incompetence — not widespread misconduct — that led to the problems.

The IG's report, on the other hand, took direct aim at Veeder's superiors, noting, "There exists no doubt that laboratory management possessed sufficient information that Veeder's individual misconduct implicated potentially broader systemic issues, but failed to take appropriate action." The lab's director, George Zeosky, is still on the job. Assistant Director Richard Nuzzo—whom the report also accuses of intimidating another lab technician—was promoted to a position in the New York State Police Department's internal affairs office. Which means the guy in part responsible for turning a blind eye to incompetence and misconduct in the state's crime lab is now investigating other misconduct and incompetence within the department.

New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield predicts the report will have no effect at all on the way New York judges treat crime lab reports.

Once the prosecution gets its results from the crime lab, everything after that is all a big joke.  The defense testing is viewed as a desperate grasping at straws, making life difficult for the cops and prosecution, and just another waste of time for the court.  Sure, judges will acknowledge that state crime labs have their issues, but the "real" problem is always in some other case, before some other judge.  Every judge believes that the lab results before him or her are routine.  There's no problem here, counselor. Move along.

What makes scientific results different, however, is their conclusive affect on a judge and jury.  If the lab report says so, then so it is.  As much as judges and lawyers aren't scientists, neither are most jurors.  We all bow to the god of science, even when we know that it's not omnipotent. 

So the state, at least the Inspector General, acknowledges that the State Police Lab, sucks.  Do you think there will be a single judge across the State of New York who refuses to admit a lab report into evidence as a result?  I don't.  Not one.  Even if it was written in crayon.

The scandal in New York is yet another argument for several of the forensic reforms Roger Koppl suggested in a 2007 report for the Reason Foundation (publisher of Reason magazine and Reason.com). One is to send forensic evidence to private labs for testing and verification of the state crime lab's results. Even if it's only on every fourth or fifth or tenth case, as long as state lab technicians don't know when they're being checked, you eliminate the bias toward pleasing bosses and prosecutors. You also strengthen the incentive for accuracy.

And that's the other incentive problem, here. The state crime lab is run by the state police. That isn't a recipe for objective science. If you're going to have a state forensics laboratory, it ought to be wholly independent of police agencies and prosecutors.

This episode is also further evidence of the importance of the Supreme Court's decision earlier this year in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, which established that the Constitution's Confrontation Clause gives defendants the right to cross examine the authors of crime lab reports. That decision had prosecutors across the country raging, complaining about the costs and burdens they now face in making forensic experts available for court. The ruling may already be in jeopardy; the Court will hear arguments next year in a Virginia case that could limit its reach.

Somewhat related: The woman who took Melendez-Diaz all the way to the Supreme Court, where she unsuccessfully argued against a right to cross-examine forensic specialists, was Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. Coakley is the Democratic nominee and heavy favorite in next month's special election to replace Ted Kennedy in the U.S. Senate.

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  1. Sshhh. If you listen, you can hear the squirrels.

  2. The woman who took Melendez-Diaz all the way to the Supreme Court, where she unsuccessfully argued against a right to cross-examine forensic specialists, was Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

    The science is settled!

    If you want to cross-examine an expert witness you are AN ANTI-SCIENCE DENIER!

    1. ^^^ Fuckin’ a, win.

  3. If only more incompetent government bureaucrats had the decency to off themselves…

    -jcr

    1. Oh how I wish.

  4. The smart money has been leaving the US for years, now faster than ever.

  5. Ok, Radley, you can tone it down a bit, my groin is a little sore from this recent deluge of really depressing stories

    1. Radley is definitely not good for my blood pressure.

    2. Your groin? What, are you jerkin’ off to these stories? That’s sick, man.

  6. The local DAs are always complaining that it takes up to 3 years to get DNA test results from the Alabama state crime lab.

    1. Hmmm… Alabama… DNA… nah, it’s just too easy.

  7. Wow, Corruption truly is bliss!

    RT
    http://www.anonymous-web.cz.tc

  8. Wow, Corruption truly is bliss!

    RT
    http://www.anonymous-web.cz.tc

    1. The comment so nice he posted it twice.

  9. All most male judges care about is if the CSI chicks appear in court wearing revealing tops.

  10. Got any ideas for “reform” that aren’t just the addition of a layer of corruption, or the replacement of one with another?

    The system works.

  11. Been there, done that. There’s still a bunch of people in jail down here from the fabulous work done by the Houston PD Crime Lab.

    I want to see a real crime lab on CSI, one with obsolete cobbled-together equipment and the roof leaking onto evidence containers and shit routinely misfiled and lost. Maybe that would shake the faith of the jury a little bit.

  12. I think everyone should have to take a tour of a crime lab. The image is of some high tech facility that looks like a combination of something out of CSI and the Andramada Strain. The reality is a high school science lab manned by GEDs in t-shirts and jeans.

    Reason has had a few posts on the fact that most “forensic science” isn’t science at all but bullshit invented by cops. Yeah, you can match DNA if the sample isn’t contaminated and the lab doesn’t fuck up. But, I am sorry I don’t buy for a minute that you can match carpet fibers and use blood splaters to tell you exactly how a gun was pointing when it was fired and any number of other bogus junk that foisted on juries in this country. And thanks to dumb ass crime shows jurors think anything said by anyone in a lab coat is gospel. I sometimes wonder if there isn’t any problem or injustice in this country that Hollywood doesn’t contribute to. I can’t think of any.

    1. I can tell you from personal experience that analyzing blood spatters is an effective way of to recreate violent crimes.

      1. Suurre

        1. Don’t cross Dexter Morgan.

    2. Thanks, Jerry Bruckheimer! You’ve done more good for society than I can measure!

  13. Coakley is a worthless hack. Earlier in her career she was responsible for letting off Fr. Geoghan to go molest several dozen more children and now refuses to comment on it. If Mass voters were intesreted in more than name recognition she wouldn’t have won the primary, but sadly her name was the big one, ergo the win.

    Hopefully Joe Kennedy (not “Joe for Oil”, but Joe Kennedy the unknown libertarian) will use the name recognition factor to kick everyone’s ass and win the seat, but that’s probably too much to hope for.

    1. “Earlier in her career she was responsible for letting off Fr. Geoghan to go molest several dozen more children and now refuses to comment on it.”

      I had never heard that. Amazing. Our whole society, and especially our political life, is filled with people who go right to the top despite having no values or redeeming virtues and fucking up everything they touch. Coakley is a symbol for our miserable age.

    2. It’s worse than that; she helped groom the children in the Fells Acres Day Care Case, one of those day care child molestation cases where the authorities basically lied to young kids over and over until the kids believed they had been sexually assaulted.

      People like Coakley get their sexual jollies on controlling other people, and need to be treated as the wicked perverts they are.

  14. Armed with a cheat sheet from a former supervisor, Gary Veeder managed to fake lab reports in criminal cases for 15 years.

    This guy is the epitome of government employees.

  15. I wonder if the crime lab had a hand in determining that he committed suicide?

  16. The original version in Vegas (baby) is easily the most realistic. They talk about bureaucratic problems and pressure from superiors or the DA from time to time, they don’t solve every case because sometimes they just don’t have the evidence, and they even make some of the cops pricks. If you’re not a complete moron you could be an objective juror and not ruined forever by watching that show. Sadly, there are lots of complete morons who think CSI:Miami and CSI:NY are just as good and every leader of these teams is a friggin’ Eagle Scout looking out for teh children!!1111uno!!11!

  17. Forensic studies is an increasingly popular college degree. It is like forensic science, but without all those icky biology and chemistry courses that the students can’t pass. When someone says they have a degree in forensic [whatever], pay attention to the second word.

    1. Forensic studies? That is like getting a degree in biology studies. What the hell kind of sense does that make? Welcome to the Waco State School of future prosecutorial hacks and pig management”

      1. It’s pretty popular now. Google it.

  18. Nick, are you really Anthony Zuiker? I cannot think of any other reason you would be on H&R record — twice now — lauding CSI.

    1. He’s David Caruso.

  19. Remember, kids, they’re called “crime labs” for a reason.

  20. And that’s the most disturbing part of the story.

    Oh, then no need to read on……Or maybe you left out a “not even” there?

  21. That decision had prosecutors across the country raging, complaining about the costs and burdens they now face in making forensic experts available for court.

    I think one of my heroes, Thurgood Marshall, is spinning in his grave.

  22. Police “Cleared” in Toccoa GA Pastor Shooting

    Stephens County Grand Jury finds use of deadly force legally justified.

    by Jessica Waters
    Friday, December 18, 2009 1:17 PM EST

    Earlier this morning, the Stephens County Grand Jury returned a presentment concerning the officer-involved shooting death of Jonathan Ayers.

    “On Dec. 15, the Grand Jury convened in special session to review the matter of the officer involved shooting death of Jonathan Ayers which occurred in Toccoa, Stephens County, Georgia on September 1, 2009,” states the presentment.

    The Grand Jury reviewed the entire investigative file of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and heard testimony from six witnesses, including Commander Kyle Bryant, Mountain Narcotics Criminal Investigation & Suppression Team (NCIS); Agent Chance Oxner, Mountain NCIS; Special Agent in Charge Mike Ayers, GBI; Special Agent Megan Miller, GBI; Agent Billy Shane Harrison, Mountain NCIS; and Charles J. (Joe) Key, expert in police use of force.

    The grand jury stated in the presentment that they “had adequate time to completely review the GBI case file in its entirety.”

    The Grand Jury presentment concluded with the following findings:

    “After careful consideration of the evidence in this case, we the Grand Jury make the following findings:

    Concerning the investigation conducted by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, we find that the investigation was very thorough, complete, unbiased and well presented.

    Concerning the actions of the officers involved in the death of Jonathan Ayers on September 1, 2009, we find that the use of deadly force by Agent Billy Shane Harrison was legally justified based upon his objectively reasonable belief that such use of force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or others. Based upon this finding, we the Grand Jury believe that the officers involved in this incident would be immune form criminal prosecution pursuant to Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-3-24.2.

    The Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office will be releasing the investigative file to The Toccoa Record in the near future.

    http://www.thetoccoarecord.com…..383173.txt

    1. Here is Radley’s post on the case.
      https://reason.com/blog/2009/09…..d-in-botch

  23. 15 years on the job and he couldn’t figure out how to work a microscope! Was he retarded or something?

  24. Terror State Germany 2010:
    State Terrorism – Germany
    Everyone of good faith understands that the system is for protection. I am less a believer these days since I have witnessed State crimes against our people. The abyss is deeper and spirit of life is thinner for me, as I never expected the extreme treachery and falsity that I have encountered?
    The State maintains “a rigorous, harsh” System of Inquisition similar to a Spider’s web, it goes under the name of democracy, but it is genuinely ignorant of the reality?

  25. Terror State Germany 2010:
    State Terrorism – Germany
    Everyone of good faith understands that the system is for protection. I am less a believer these days since I have witnessed State crimes against our people. The abyss is deeper and spirit of life is thinner for me, as I never expected the extreme treachery and falsity that I have encountered?
    The State maintains “a rigorous, harsh” System of Inquisition similar to a Spider’s web, it goes under the name of democracy, but it is genuinely ignorant of the reality?

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