I’m up to my eyeballs in life. So much so, that I can’t find any time to write. Not a blog post, not a critique, not an email, not even a Facebook post. So I’m squeezing this post in while printing reams of case file. Why? Because I’m consulting on a large criminal DNA case.
In my past life, I used to be a forensic scientist. Not the cool CSI kind that goes to crime scenes, analyzes evidence, confronts suspects, and solves the case all while the detectives look on with interest, but the real kind–the one that wears a lab coat, works in a lab, analyzes evidence, writes reports, and sometimes testifies. No cool dialog. And only some of the cool toys you see on TV.
I told my critique partners I was going to be taking a hiatus until I get this case review finished and they were jazzed. They want me to write murder mysteries and cool crime things. If I write a story about working in a crime lab, it would be a great bedtime story for its soporific effects. (In common lingo, it would put you to sleep). Nonetheless, while my printer keeps malfunctioning, it does give me time to pontificate about my ex-forensic science status, and I was looking for something to post, so…
Let me give you a brief idea of what life was like, and then you guys ask me questions and I’ll answer them. Just keep in mind, I can talk in general about cases, but I can’t give out details of cases I’ve worked. Also keep in mind that I worked in a DNA lab, which meant that about half of our cases were personal crimes (assault, sexual assault, homicide). Many of the things I’ve seen, read, and worked are either disturbing or for mature readers only.
Each crime lab does things slightly different. I can tell you this, because I’ve audited several of them. I enjoyed visiting other labs and seeing how they handled the basics of dealing with evidence–receiving it, storing it, analyzing it, reporting it.
Public crime labs, which are run by city or county governments or police departments, have their own jurisdictions. Rules of evidence vary from state to state. Some states require crime labs to be accredited, some do not. Some crime labs require their analysts to be certified, most do not. The federal government counters some of this variability by requiring any laboratory using their national DNA database, the COmbined DNA Index System (CODIS), to show compliance with their standards, including accreditation, procedures for dealing with evidence, personnel training and qualifications, facility requirements, etc. (Am I boring you yet?).
The basic point is that while most crime laboratories have to comply to a national standard, and it is not a strict as what you might expect. Some laboratories go above and beyond the standards and do a rigorous and thorough job (like the lab where I worked), and others struggle to meet minimum requirements whether due to budgetary constraints, lack of training, or other problems.
That’s where our adversarial judicial system becomes important. While I worked for a county crime lab for almost eleven years on the prosecution side of DNA cases, I am now consulting for the defense. My job is to look at the laboratory documents produced on discovery to see whether they make sense. Did the lab do their job? Did they follow their procedures? Are their procedures in line with the national requirements? Do their conclusions make sense? In other words, I’m there to look at the case and make sure the defense attorney understands what the reports mean and whether there were any problems in the case file.
I’m done printing, so it’s time to get to work. I’m happy to answer questions. Let’s have fun with this.
SO TELL ME, WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW?