We’ve all seen the scenes from TV’s crime dramas. In a bright
white lab coat, the forensic scientist examines the evidence from a high profile
burglary or heist, arrives at the solution, then confidently presents his findings
as fact. It makes for gripping television, but unfortunately, it is not
indicative of a real life crime lab. In reality, lab technicians can never
be one hundred percent confident in their findings, and elements of human
error are always a possibility.
In fact, the human element of a crime lab was what led two researchers
to examine the funding systems currently in place for many state crime
labs. The researchers discovered that many state crime labs are funded
on a per-conviction basis — a shocking revelation that throws the
reliability of a crime lab’s findings into question.
When a crime lab processes evidence that results in a guilty verdict, the
guilty party is assessed a “laboratory fee,” an amount of
money intended to compensate the lab for the work they’ve done.
However, when a not guilty verdict is returned, the lab receives nothing.
The fear, then, is that technicians may be working under a bias that tends
to favor incriminating evidence.
In Florida, for example, one crime lab was given $50 for each guilty verdict
or plea related to drunk driving or boating. The lab was given $100 each
time they processed evidence in a drug-related case — but again,
only if the case ended with a conviction.
This system apparently exists in many labs across the country, and criminal
defense advocates are treating it as a cause for legitimate concern. Some
advocates have already suggested a number of potential reforms, policies
that would sever the connection between convictions and crime lab funding.
Source: The Huffington Post, “New Study Finds That State Crime Labs Are Paid Per Conviction” Radley Balko, Aug. 29, 2013