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Crime lab scandal raises fundamental questions about the system

The Massachusetts state crime lab came under scrutiny recently after it was discovered that one of its scientists may have tainted evidence used in thousands of criminal cases. The scandal has shaken public confidence in criminal justice systems across the country.

Of course, Wisconsin residents hope that those required to mount a criminal defense against charges will be treated fairly and will be released if they are innocent. However, this recent scandal shows that human error and other factors contribute to a criminal justice system containing both obvious and subtle flaws.

The Massachusetts case will hopefully be resolved on face with the overturning of case rulings affected by tainted evidence. However, it is unsettling to consider the reality that mishandling of criminal evidence does occur and forever changes the lives of the accused, victims and their loved ones.

If the chemist in this case was an anomaly, it might be easier for the public to dismiss the scandal. However, the chemist who has admitted to falsifying samples, failing to test certain evidence and seeking direct contact with prosecutors and law enforcement is not the first to have done so and will not likely be the last.

So how do individual state systems guard against this kind of corruption? It is a question that must be answered state by state and with as much urgency as possible. Without addressing the Massachusetts case as a learning experience, history will be doomed to repeat itself in Wisconsin and every other state at one point or another.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Scandal at Massachusetts crime lab raises swirl of questions," Anne Driscoll, Oct. 21, 2012

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