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Is State Crime Lab Evidence Fair? Lawyers Call for Probe

October 17, 2007

Seattle, WA – A group of more than 1,000 attorneys is calling for an independent investigation of the Washington State Patrol's crime lab system. They're asking for a probe of allegations that the crime lab mishandled such evidence as blood and ballistics tests, and misstated expert testimony, in some cases.

Lea Zengage of the advocacy group Justice Works!, says a closer look at the way evidence is handled is necessary, because public defenders are already having a tough time ensuring their clients get fair trials in Washington.

"Our court system is in such a state of imbalance, where all the power resides, not even with the judge, but with the prosecutor. So, any opportunity to have any kind of check or balance in what the prosecutors are doing is a good thing."

In the state crime lab case, some of the employees involved resigned last summer, but their evidence had been used in hundreds of trials. A whistleblower first brought the problems to light. Crime lab managers have said they also are shorthanded and underpaid.

Zengage feels the allegations point to serious problems with the justice system. She says most public defenders, who juggle triple the recommended number of clients, are too swamped to prepare their cases, let alone question the crime lab's findings.

"The defense attorneys have huge caseloads. That makes it impossible for them to devote any time at all to their clients, to come up with a defense that is adequate for people."

The Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is asking the state Forensic Investigation Council to issue a public report of its findings, and to recommend new procedures for the Washington State Patrol's Crime Laboratory Division.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA