Lessons From the Nassau County Crime Lab Shutdown

The Nassau County Crime Lab was permanently shut down last year after numerous violations involving inaccurate testing for blood alcohol concentration and other drugs. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice ordered the shutdown after six of nine samples retested from previous drug cases proved inaccurate. The lab was put on probation in 2006, but District Attorney Rice said she was unaware of any problems until 2010.

In 2010 the lab was again put on probation when it failed on over 20 critical items in a review conducted by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Inspector General Ellen Biben wrote in a report issued nine months after the shutdown that the lab had "profound failures." The report condemned the lab has having weak leadership and inconsistent training.

The report suggested the county medical examiner's office take over leadership of the drug crime lab and institute better training and higher standards for drug testing. Currently, however, the lab remains closed.

The shutdown - and the mistakes that precipitated the shutdown - are still having a profound effect on previous convictions.

The drug crime lab's equipment for measuring blood alcohol concentration had not been calibrated for years at the time of the shutdown, meaning convictions for DWI based on evidence obtained from that equipment may be unreliable. DWI convictions from as early as 2006 are being investigated for inaccuracies and many of them could potentially be overturned.

In addition, drug crimes rely heavily on lab results, and a few grams of heroin or cocaine can be the difference between a misdemeanor and felony charge. It is also unclear if the equipment used to test drugs was properly calibrated. In addition, the scales may not have been cleared after each test, meaning that residue from previous tests may have remained for each new test, leading to inaccurate results. Again, drug crime convictions from as far back as 2007 are also being reviewed - which number in the thousands.

Even if your case was not determined on evidence obtained by the Nassau County Crime Lab, the shutdown evidences how law enforcement must use accurate and constitutional methods to obtain evidence for drug crimes and DWIs. If you were convicted of a crime based on evidence from the Nassau County Crime Lab, contact a criminal defense attorney familiar with the lab's failures. Anyone charged with a drug crime or DWI should also contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to ensure that all evidence is accurate and obtained lawfully.