We trust toxicology labs to tell us about a significant amount of information, particularly when it comes to criminal cases. What happens when we can’t trust the results coming out of a lab, though?
This is the question that many in Washington state are beginning to ask.
There’s been a contamination within the Washington State toxicology lab including both methamphetamine and cocaine.
The state only has one forensic toxicology laboratory. So, when it cannot be trusted to produce reliable and untainted results, it leaves criminal investigators in quite the lurch.
Recent samplings have shown that the lab has more and more contaminated areas. There are residual levels of cocaine on at least four sites and meth on at least five sites.
Besides identifying that the lab is contaminated, it also means that quite a few results may have been contaminated. It means that thousands of criminal cases and death investigations across the state may be at risk. Defense lawyers question the integrity of blood tests that have been performed at the lab.
In the U.S., we rely heavily on the justice system to be fair. Court decisions are supposed to be effective and fair. Yet, it’s hard to guarantee effectiveness and fairness if blood tests used to sentence someone to prison are tainted.
It works both ways. For those who are innocent, they may be shown as guilty. For those who are guilty, they may get back out onto the streets because of a faulty lab.
Ceiling vents and air intake systems are causing the cocaine and meth to contaminate various aspects of the lab. Samples of some of the other sites within the Washington State Patrol Toxicology Lab also tested positive for various other drugs.
Lab officials, who want to keep their hands as clean of taking the blame as possible, say that the blood testing isn’t being compromised even though the lab is contaminated.
The officials maintain that the sites detected by the samplings were cleaned in July.
Samples will continue to be taken to check for contamination. There are also workplace safety and air handling assessments being performed by a federal occupational health agency according to State Patrol spokesperson Captain Neil Weaver.
A state forensics advisory panel will be offering guidance to the lab in terms of how to make legal disclosures to defendants. After all, if there’s a contamination issue, those who have had issues with their blood tests deserve to know what is going on.
As public defender Bruce Adsero of Lynwood explained, “the fact that there is still contamination despite the public messaging from the state is very alarming.
The contamination problems have been occurring continuously over the past year. Adsero and his law firm, Feldman & Lee, have been pushing for the state to be more transparent over the issue.
Since 2019, meth has been falsely detected in blood samples in at least 11 cases. The false positives led to the officials in the tox lab hiring a contractor to clean up the contamination.
Although a clean-up has been conducted, there’s still enough contamination to result in detectable levels in the samples that are being collected across the lab.
This is a problem. Although the state wants to brush it under the rug and say that it won’t affect blood sample results, it most certainly will – and lawyers have a right to know what’s going on.
With contamination being an ongoing question, many defense lawyers wonder who may have been falsely convicted – and it could add up to thousands. It’s enough to worry about because it could mean countless criminals being released back onto the streets of Seattle and across the state simply because of a state coverup and ineffective cleanup.