In a letter sent out to multiple defense attorneys in April 2014, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated that her office is sending out ballistic evidence in 45 cases to be retested after a lab technician in an out-of-state lab admitted that he made an error in testing evidence for one case. The letter states that a lab technician for a private Texas forensics lab “failed to identify a number of shell casings as coming from a particular weapon.” When the technician was challenged over his conclusion, he reexamined the evidence and then changed his opinion. According to Rice, 32 of the cases involved are still open. However, in 14 of the cases, the defendant has already been sentenced, including a murder case.
Shams Takek, a spokesperson for the Nassau DA’s office, stated that while the mistake appears to be an isolated incident, the DA is showing an “overabundance of caution” in requiring the evidence in 45 cases to be retested. Takek stated, “We were upset to learn of a mistake having been made and that’s exactly why we took the steps we did–to restore confidence that lab results will be accurate and reliable and that accuracy and reliability do not come at any cost to taxpayers.”
The latest testing error comes three years after officials shut down the Nassau County Crime Lab in February 2011 after a New York State Inspector General’s report revealed that the crime lab was rife with problems and deficiencies. The report also revealed that police officials failed to act even after they discovered the lab was having significant problems.
In December 2010, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board placed the lab on probation. It was the only lab in the country on probation at that time. After an investigation of the facility, the agency issued the lab 15 citations. The citations stated that the lab failed to comply with nationally recognized standards, improperly maintained equipment and instruments, failed to mark evidence properly, failed to store evidence properly, failed to secure the facility properly and keeping poor records.
In 2011, officials decided to shut down the lab. As a result, 9,000 drug cases were sent out to be retested after a spot check of nine test results revealed that six of them were incorrect. Rice stated the incorrect results made it “impossible to offer narcotics evidence to the court with the fairness and integrity that I believe are required and that the community deserves.”
Once the lab’s closure was announced, dozens of defense attorneys filed motions questioning if their clients received fair treatment in cases ranging from homicide, to drugs, to drunk driving.
Since February 2011, the county has been sending ballistics and drug evidence out-of-state to be tested at a cost of $500,000 per year. The county’s medical examiner’s office also conducts forensics tests in some cases.
According to former Long Island state senator Michael Balboni, who is overseeing the building of a new crime lab, the county has already allocated $40 million for the project which is expected to begin in the summer.
More can be learned about this story at the links below:
Nassau County DA: Evidence in 45 county cases being retested, ABC News, April 8, 2014
I-Team: Nassau County Ballistic Evidence May Have Been Compromised in 45 Cases: DA, NBC NY, Ann Givens & Pei-Sze Cheng, April 8, 2014