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Don't let TV fool you: Crime labs can be full of serious errors

For a number of reasons, Americans love police procedural dramas about forensic evidence and analysis. There must be about two dozen television shows at any time dealing with the unsung heroes of murder and drug investigations: genius lab technicians who solve cases with mere traces of evidence.

Forensic science has come a long way, but the obsession with such TV shows creates at least two significant problems. First of all, even under the best circumstances, crime labs cannot do all of the things shown on television. Second, real-life jurors have spent so much time watching forensic dramas that they often have blind faith in the lab results entered into evidence in court. Contrary to popular belief, crime labs do not always get things right. In fact, they are notorious for serious errors and technician misconduct.

In just the last few years alone, more than 100 American crime labs have experienced major failures on the part of forensic scientists or equipment. In several high-profile cases, it has been revealed that highly respected forensic scientists were fudging lab reports, fabricating test results and even pilfering drugs (submitted as evidence) for their own use or to sell to others.

Earlier this year, a 32-year-old, highly respected supervisor at a state crime lab in Florida was arrested on charges of evidence tampering, drug trafficking and grand theft. Investigators say the man had been stealing narcotics from evidence and swapping them out with legal over-the-counter drugs. As a result of his arrest, thousands of drug crime convictions have been called into question because he had handled the evidence. The same is often true when other lab technicians have been accused of misconduct or negligence.

The takeaway message for anyone facing criminal charges is that evidence is not necessarily as iron-clad many people assume. Evidence can be tossed out if there is reason to suspect that it has been tampered with, mishandled or otherwise tainted. Sometimes, defense attorneys can even have evidence independently tested to confirm the accuracy of crime lab results.

Forensic science is not always exact and is often far less than perfect. The first step in successfully challenging the evidence against you is consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: Business Insider, "FORGET CSI: A Disaster Is Happening In America's Crime Labs," Jordan Michael Smith, April 30, 2014

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

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