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Letter: Nassau Crime Lab Problems Not Remediable From Within

The problems in the Nassau Police Crime Lab are extensive, impacting on the convictions of literally thousands of cases. The extent of the problem must first be identified. This is not something that should be determined by the Nassau County Police Department or District Attorney’s Office alone. What should occur is a review of what has happened when other labs have had similar problems. For example, when the former Inspector General of the United States, venerated attorney and former prosecutor, Michael Bromwich, uncovered similar problems with the F.B.I.’s crime lab, what was done there? Similarly, when New York City had more than 50,000 rape kits backed up for several years, what did they do to satisfy accrediting authorities?

A independent commission should be established with representatives from other police departments, district attorneys’ offices, the judiciary, the defense bar and most importantly, forensic scientists and investigators.  Since officials from Nassau may be witnesses they should not be on the commission. The commission should inventory all cases involving forensic evidence. Notices should be sent to defense counsel and defendants that a review is occurring. Their input should be sought and they should be apprised of the results.

They should also have the right to challenge their convictions if they were based upon questionable forensic evidence. If a defendant was properly identified, or gave a confession or there was other evidence separate from the forensic evidence, then his or her guilt may have been the end result anyway even without the flawed lab reports. The cases that must be reviewed are those that depended upon forensic lab reports for their outcome. Corrected reports may result in changes in pleas and some exonerations but they can also result in more convictions.

Thomas F. Liotti
Attorney, Village Justice