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What’s going on with Michigan’s crime lab backup?

| Apr 15, 2021 | The Justice System |

Although over 5,000 crime kits await testing by the Michigan State Police, officials say that the backlog has actually shrunk dramatically. Recent reporting in the Detroit News revealed that crime lab testing backlogs have dropped by 63% since 2016.

According to the article, the executive director of the crime lab, Jeffrey Nye, testified recently before the House Appropriations Committee that the backlog is one of the smallest in the past 25 years, and attributed this reduction to the effect of legalizing marijuana, as labs no longer need to process evidence for marijuana cases.

Another perspective on the possible cause of the reduction in backlog came from Michael Kuslaski, a former forensic scientist who worked at the MSP’s Metropolitan Detroit Forensics Crime Laboratory.

According to Kuslaski, the system is out of date and is affecting productivity. Officers may be collecting just as much evidence as before but are not submitting it, because they would rather not submit evidence unless they can get it back in a reasonable amount of time.

Backlog affecting wrongful convictions as well as victims’ cases

The article also cited the experience of Imran Syed from the University of Michigan’s law school, whose investigative work involves cases in which evidence is sought that could overturn wrongful convictions. In the article, Syed stated that during the Detroit crime lab crisis of 2009, over 11,000 untested rape kits were found in a Detroit Police Department storage facility.

In Syed’s view, when forensic evidence is collected but not properly documented, it compromises not only a defendant’s right to a fair trial, but victims’ rights as well.

The role of forensic science in criminal justice

Forensic science is an essential part of the criminal justice system. Forensic science laboratories examine evidence using many disciplines:

  • DNA testing and forensic toxicology
  • Forensic chemistry
  • Examination of trace evidence such as hairs, fibers, paints, soil, etc.
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • Firearms or explosives examinations
  • Handwriting analysis

Were it not for the sophisticated analysis of evidence found at the crime scene by forensic laboratories, it would be impossible to definitively prove that an individual committed a crime or that an innocent person was wrongly convicted.

If you have been accused of a crime, it is essential to develop an effective defense that will also protect your rights. Having the assistance of an experienced Michigan criminal defense lawyer who works in his client’s best interests can make the difference in ensuring that you will be able to obtain optimal results for your case.