In a recent article published by Business Insider and Reader’s Digest titled “Crisis in Our Crime Labs”, author Jordan Michael Smith puts in black and white the very real issues in crime labs and the impact they have on criminal cases. Smith accurately highlights the message routinely delivered to viewers of top-rated, HOLLYWOOD-SCRIPTED, shows CSI, Law and Order: Special Victim’s Unit, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, Bones, and Hawaii Five-O, that law enforcement lab work will invariably defeat and successfully convict criminals.
The truth is that these shows are created and often filmed in Hollywood. The truth is these shows are very entertaining, but they are FICTION.
The unscripted labs tell a different story. The non-fictional, more ordinary-looking and often unremarkable characters that staff and operate the real crime labs are subject to typical human error. In the article, Smith notes several egregious crime lab errors. Notably, a New York State Inspector General discovered a 10-year veteran of a New York City lab was regularly mislabeling samples and misplacing evidence and despite the errors being known by her supervisors, she continued her employment. In Florida, there is the case against Joseph Graves, a former supervisor at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, now charged with 63 felonies related to his mishandling of evidence, theft, and sale of narcotics. A case that has remained largely out of the public eye. Why you ask?
Because big publicity would lead to big public outcry and big public outcry would lead to a call for change. Big Brother cant have that. County and City governments AND law enforcement have good reason to avoid change at all costs. Wholesale crime lab changes would put past convictions in jeopardy.
Despite the flaws, despite the errors, despite the documented failures, and despite the inexact science of real-life crime laboratories, Hollywood has convinced the public that forensic evidence and crime labs are infallible.
Poor training and supervision, or sloppy work, accidental or not, can have devastating consequences. It can lead to convictions of the innocent.