Attorney J. Bradley Smith answering the question: “Can the police search my car without a warrant?”
A recent article in the Huffington Post dealt with the issue of some state crime labs being impacted by the danger of cognitive bias. The author of the study notes that when crime lab analysts report to a state police agency or the attorney general, they can feel co-opted to be part of the state’s criminal justice team. The problem with this is that the crime lab should not be on anyone’s side, but instead neutrally review and analyze evidence.
A recent piece in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics deals with a related theme, how the current criminal justice system financially incentives wrongful convictions. Specifically, the article noted how crime labs in many states are actually funded through court fees, something that the authors say act as a channel for bias to enter the crime lab analysis.
In some states, the crime labs actually receive money for each criminal conviction. For instance, some crime labs depend solely on conviction money for their funding, with a crime lab in rural Louisiana receiving $10 for every guilty plea or verdict from each speeding ticket and $50 from DWI cases. Illinois crime labs earn money after convictions for sex offenses and drug crimes while Mississippi crime labs are paid after convictions for crimes including arson, DWI and aiding suicide.
Something that may surprise residents of North Carolina is that the state is named as being one of these locations where bias can be created due to the funding structure of the state’s crime lab. North Carolina law says that judges in the state are empowered to assess a $600 fee to those who have been convicted of various crimes to help pay for the services of a state or local crime lab. Such fees can be assessed whenever a lab performs DNA analysis of a crime, tests bodily fluids for the presence of alcohol or drugs or analyze any substance possessed by the defendant.
The authors of the piece note that similar provisions exist in states such as Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey and Virginia. Though the authors do not claim that such financial structures guarantee bias, the worry is that the financial structure incentivizes wrongful convictions.
The reason is that every analyst who works at such a lab understands that the results of the test they are conducting will impact future fees paid to the lab. Every test result that definitively clears a suspect means the loss of a fee. The worry is that this kind of thought process can slowly creep into the minds of even honest analysts and possibly prejudice otherwise objective scientists.
Arnold & Smith, PLLC is a Charlotte based criminal defense, traffic violation defense and civil litigation law firm servicing Charlotte and the surrounding area. If you or someone you know need legal assistance, please contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828.
About the Author:
Brad Smith is a Managing Member with Arnold & Smith, PLLC where he focuses on the areas of criminal defense, DUI / DWI defense and traffic defense. Mr. Smith began his legal career in Charlotte, North Carolina as an Assistant District Attorney. In 2006, he entered private practice focusing almost entirely on criminal defense.
Born and raised in Charlotte, Mr. Smith is married with one son and one daughter. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, boating, golf and hiking near his mountain home in western North Carolina.
“New Study Finds That State Crime Labs Are Paid Per Conviction,” by Radley Balko, published at HuffingtonPost.com.
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