A state forensic lab has just announced that it will no longer endorse several of its test results used in the prosecution of DUI cases. The Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment’s Chief Medical Officer stated last Thursday that the State’s blood test lab will not stand by 33 of the 12000 test results reviewed during the investigation. Experienced defense attorneys may soon take advantage of this breaking news to possibility vacate their client’s OUI convictions or dismiss the charges all together if the prosecution has relied on lab reports released from the state’s lab.
The Department’s Chief Medical Officer sent a letter to a local police chief stating that an internal investigation led to the discovery of an incorrect procedure followed by one of the lab’s employees over the span of 7 months in 2013-2014. According to the letter, this was strictly an isolated incident of human error, and does not effect the results of any other test conducted by the lab.
This news comes less than a year after the criminal sentencing of Annie Dookhan who pleaded guilty to more than two dozen counts of filing false reports, tampering with evidence, and misleading police officers.
The primary distinction between the controversy in Colorado and Dookhan is in the actual validity of the evidentiary reports released by each lab. The criminal investigation in the Dookhan matter revealed that the reports released by the Hinton lab in Boston were falsified, thereby completely undermining the validity of those tests.
In contrast, the Colorado lab’s problematic reports were not explicitly invalid. According to the Chief Medical Officer’s letter, the Department is unable to endorse the 33 reports merely because of failures to meet the state quality control measures in those tests. An employee of the state lab evidently failed to properly calibrate the specific Intoxilyzer 9000 device that was used in those 33 tests, thereby resulting in the tests falling outside the acceptable range of quality control calibration checks. Nonetheless, the Chief Medical Officer assured the Police Department that while the Department can no longer endorse the results due to state Board of Health regulations, the results of this investigation do not suggest that the test results are invalid.
This announcement still raises serious concern for the 33 cases reported to have been affected by the state employee’s errors. When a driver submits to a chemical test or provides a blood sample to police, the police department transports the sample to the state lab (or third party contractor) for testing. After the lab analysts test the blood for alcohol/drug content, they release a report to the state prosecutor’s office. The prosecutor then attempts to admit the test results into evidence during trial, or uses them as leverage in a plea bargain, to reach some form of conviction.
A discovery such as the one made by the Colorado state lab jeopardizes the reliability and credibility of the entire state lab, and presents the possibility for an appeal on prior convictions or a dismissal of ongoing prosecutions.