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When trust goes

Much of the criminal justice system depends on the trust of the citizens. We have to trust that the police, prosecutors and courts follow the rule of law, use the correct procedure and adhere to the Constitution. We expect police investigations to be genuine and fair and we presume all of the other elements of building a case are done properly.

In many criminal cases, there is material that appears to be some illegal substance, but in order to ensure justice is done, there must be scientific proof that a leafy plant is from a marijuana plant, a white powder is cocaine and a blood or breath test indicating intoxication is accurate.

This is why crime laboratories, where tests are run to provide the authority for the claim that a driver was drunk or a brick of plant matter is marijuana, are important. Needless to say, the work in these labs must be performed with scrupulous  accuracy.  Mistakes at this level have real consequences, including wrongful convictions and prison time.

So it is unsettling to read that the Michigan State Police's Forensic Science Division had 4,000 items from cases involving alcohol-related charges where the tests were incorrectly calibrated. The lab claims that the incorrect calibration only resulted in very minor changes to test results and did not move any alcohol measurements above or below Michigan's legal limit of 0.08.

However, such a report, taken in context with the numerous reports of slipshod practices and in a few case of outright fraud that has occurred in numerous crime labs across the country does not inspire confidence or trust.

For the criminal justice system to function properly and maintain the trust of the citizenry, every element must operate correctly and with painstaking accuracy. Whether sloppy tests from crime labs, to police misconduct and wrongful convictions, they all undermine the trust in the system. And when trust is gone, the criminal justice system loses the justice part and merely become criminal.


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