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Santa Clara crime lab botches drug testing

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POSTED May 6, 2014 6:54 p.m.

SAN JOSE (AP) — Prosecutors in Santa Clara County said human error by a technician led to six false positive drug tests at its crime lab.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said Monday that a crime-lab technician used the wrong chemical to conduct preliminary methamphetamine testing on the blood samples of 2,500 people arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Retesting found six false positives, but none of those people is in custody because of the mistaken tests, assistant district attorney David Angel said Tuesday. The technician apparently used the wrong chemical solution when administering the tests that increased its sensitivity, the prosecutor said.

The testing occurred between January and March, and another technician discovered the error last month, Angel said.

“Just simple human error. The technician grabbed the wrong chemical that has a similar name with the one that is used for testing,” Angel said. “Worst-case scenario, it was an honest mistake.”

Angel, who heads the Santa Clara County DA’s office’s conviction-integrity unit, said that as a result of the error, officials reviewed four years of meth testing at the drug lab as a precaution.

Other changes at the drug lab because of the error include labeling chemicals more clearly and having a second technician double-check any test results.

The DA’s office is also notifying those nearly 2,500 defendants and their lawyers that their tests processed during the period in question were re-evaluated and have been determined to be accurate.

The technician who made the mistake has been reassigned pending an investigation, Angel said.

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