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Several cases of severe evidence mishandling in crime labs in recent months have raised concerns about the reliability of forensic technicians. With no federal regulations governing crime labs and no universal certification requirement in place, evidence handling remains a real concern in criminal cases.

Recently a forensic technician in Massachusetts was found to have mishandled thousands of evidence samples, failing to follow proper procedure in order to complete testing at unusual speeds. She claimed to have a master's degree in chemistry, which was later found to be untrue. Now the state must review 34,000 cases in which evidence may have been handled improperly.

This news should distress people on both sides of the aisle. Crime victims and prosecutors may not have the peace of mind of knowing that the right person was brought to justice. If a criminalist misses evidence or cross-contaminates it, it may be impossible to find the perpetrator.

On the other side, rogue technicians are also dangerous for criminal defendants. Just as forensic information is used to convict perpetrators it is also used to clear the names of those who have been wrongfully charged, or to exonerate those who have been improperly convicted.

The criminal justice system is meant to make sure everyone who faces criminal charges is treated fairly and given a chance to defend themselves. Part of that fairness includes the proper handling of evidence by "experts" who may hold a criminal suspect's entire future and livelihood in their hands.

Because of this risk, it is essential to aggressively protect your interests if you are involved in any criminal proceedings. Consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the justice system and its faults. He or she can guide you through the process, reviewing the evidence and building a strong defense to work toward the best possible outcome in your case.

Source: Slate, "The Unsettling, Underregulated World of Crime Labs," Justin Peters, Jan. 14, 2013

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