Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division Struggles to Maintain Accreditation

The Detroit News reports on July 6, 2012, that the Michigan State Police crime labs are suffering procedural problems and have been extended their last extension of recertification.  This applies to the entire lab, but it also includes the laboratory responsible for blood alcohol testing.  As the News reports:

Inspections at the Michigan State Police's seven crime labs found procedural problems, including how evidence is handled, that need to be corrected before the agency gets a new international accreditation, according to documents obtained by The Detroit News.


Among the issues: incomplete records, security lapses and improper storage of chemicals used in tests, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. A national accreditation board issued 118 "corrective action requests."


The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board, which was paid $69,410 to do the last inspections in December, has given the state police Forensic Science Division until this month to correct the problems.


The division's accreditation expired more than a year ago, and the board has granted three extensions, the last one in April.


. . . .


While not mandatory, lab accreditation is a stamp of approval by forensic science. . . . 


Director John M. Collins told the News:


"We have addressed all of these and expect we will have our accreditation in July," John M. Collins, director of the labs, said last week. "… Some of these are common problems at several of the labs, which hiked the number up. I have done assessments, and you are always going to have areas that need improvement.


"I actually look forward to these. It's like a physical. You are so busy with the daily work that sometimes things are overlooked. It's good to have fresh eyes come in and point things out for you that need correction."


Director John Collins addressed the criminal defense bar on June 9, 2012, at a conference in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  Collins explained that in connection with the re-certification process, lab analysts in blood alcohol testing would no longer be permitted to testify to matters outside their area of expertise, including testimony regarding field sobriety testing, opinions regarding a driver’s level of intoxication, and retrograde extrapolation of alcohol back in time based upon a static result obtained by the lab.  This is a refreshing departure from long-standing policies endorsed by Michigan State Police that encouraged technicians to exaggerate training and experience to help prosecutors win cases at any expense.


Nonetheless, Collins has his hands full, attempting to cure years of neglect and mismanagement.  Dr. Felix Adatsi, who was in charge of the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division's section in charge of blood alcohol testing, left the department two year ago.  He has not been replaced.  Dr. Michele Glinn, Dr. Adatsi's counterpart in charge of blood testing for controlled substances, has been gone for nearly a year.  Dr. Glinn left the Michigan State Police after Collins directed the lab to refrain from providing expert testimony outside their area of expertise, a position that the ever-nefarious Glinn could not tolerate.  Her position remains vacant as well.  As the News observed:


The issues the accreditation board cited were found in December during prearranged inspections, known to the labs months in advance. At the Northville lab, the accrediting board cited the improper storage of hazardous chemicals, saying waste had not been removed for about five years, and "large quantities" of expired and new chemicals were stored together.


A similar issue was found at the Lansing lab, where old chemicals in "deteriorating containers" sat in a storage room awaiting disposal for more than a year.


The same lab had no program to calibrate thermometers used in toxicology refrigerators and freezers, the board found. Except for walk-in refrigerators, temperatures were not monitored or recorded to ensure consistent levels that met specifications.


These lapses are serious.  The News consulted with experts in the field:


Forensic and legal experts described the findings as serious matters requiring attention.


Ted Kessis, who has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in molecular biology and virology, reviewed the findings and said they reflected "sloppy practices in general … from missing keys and paperwork to storage of hazardous waste."


"I was struck by how many corrections regarded record keeping," said Kessis, who runs an Ohio consulting firm, Applied DNA Resources.


"Record keeping is a very important aspect of any evidence testing being done. You have to know who worked on something — if it's not initialed, as some of these practices indicate — how can you possibly question the findings? In our country, a person has the right to face their accuser."


Professor Al Staubus, who I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions at seminars across the country and socializing with at these events, was also contacted by the News.  Professor Staubus is one of the nation’s leading experts in breath and blood testing in drunk driving cases.  The News states:


Alfred E. Staubus, a professor at the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy, reviewed the assessment of the Lansing lab and said inspectors found changes made to electronic examination records after technical review weren't being documented.


Such records document what bottles were used in specific testing and the procedure used for storage of reference materials and evidence in refrigerators.


"This is basic stuff," he said. "You need to know whenever you have made changes or altered records. This is a testing procedure, not anything administrative. It goes directly to the quality assurance of your testing."


In remediation reports The News obtained, the crime labs reported all of the accrediting board's concerns had been addressed or were being addressed.


"That is all good — that's what they should be doing," Staubus said. "But that indicates it was not being done properly. For how long? Did it result in faulty testing?"


For the full story from The Detroit News, go to: http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20120706/METRO/207060357#ixzz1zuanMgbm