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Oregon governor calls for review of state crime lab practices

A recent investigation into potential crime lab issues in Oregon calls attention to the harmful impacts forensic misconduct can have on criminal cases.

Many people in Portland may see forensic evidence as one of the most reliable sources of evidence in criminal cases. Unfortunately, this evidence can be inaccurate or completely false when crime labs make mistakes or forensic analysts engage in misconduct. Recently, the governor of Oregon called for a review of practices at Oregon State Police crime labs, citing concerns about such misconduct and related evidence accuracy issues.

Questionable Practices

The Oregonian reports that one forensic analyst is currently under investigation for various forms of misconduct. Authorities believe that the analyst tampered with evidence in alleged drug crimes and even stole drug samples. The actions of this analyst, who has worked at various crime labs in the state over the past eight years, may have affected more than 1,000 pending or closed cases.

Another Oregon crime lab analyst is suspected of exaggerating evidence and giving inaccurate testimony during criminal proceedings. According to KTVZ News, this analyst allegedly provided unreliable testimony in a 2005 case in which a man was accused of several counts of attempted aggravated murder, aggravated murder and first degree murder. Although this analyst is now retired, the reported issues with his testimony have drawn concerns about the practices of other analysts.

Forensic Misconduct and Wrongful Convictions

Alarmingly, the Innocence Project reports that forensic errors and misconduct of this nature frequently contribute to wrongful convictions. The most common factors that can give rise to questionable forensic evidence include:

  • Deliberate misconduct by analysts. In some cases, forensic analysts have been accused of concealing favorable test results, contaminating evidence or fabricating test results.
  • Exaggeration of the reliability of forensic evidence. During trial, analysts may wrongfully portray forensic evidence as more accurate and reliable than it really is.
  • Use of unproven scientific techniques. Many forensic techniques have not been independently reviewed or proven valid, so they may yield questionable evidence.

With all of these potential issues taken into account, the risk of wrongful convictions involving forensic mistakes and misconduct is high. In 47 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned through DNA evidence throughout the U.S., forensic evidence issues have been a factor.

Questioning Forensic Evidence

To address this serious issue, Oregon's governor has announced plans to create a group to evaluate various crime lab practices and procedures. The findings of this group could eventually provide grounds for reforms regarding best practices in the lab and during testimony in criminal cases. However, even if such changes are deemed necessary, they may not be implemented for some time.

In the meantime, it is important for anyone facing criminal charges that rely on forensic evidence to understand the potential issues with this evidence. Most people in this situation may benefit from consulting with an attorney about challenging questionable forensic evidence or taking other steps to improve the likelihood of a favorable resolution.

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