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State crime lab: investigation may jeopardize some meth cases

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POSTED April 23, 2010 3:03 a.m.
RIPON - Drug convictions involving defendants in Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop could be in jeopardy depending upon the outcome of a state Department of Justice investigation of how evidence was handled at the state crime lab in Ripon.

A criminologist at the lab has been placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway.

Potential problems surfaced when methamphetamine that was processed as evidence in a case handled by the criminologist was re-weighed and came up at a lower weight than it was logged in before it was tested. Subsequent re-weighing of other meth samples showed lower weights as well after the lab employee was through processing them.

“It is too early to tell if it will impact any of our cases,” noted Manteca Police Information Officer Rex Osborn.

Osborn noted that investigations involving evidence handling are the domain of the district attorney. The drug lab serves five counties - San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Calaveras, and Tuolumne.

The district attorneys in the five counties have asked for a review of all cases handled by the criminologist back to 2006. They have all agreed to start notifying the defendants and their attorneys in all of the impacted cases.

A similar incident involving the tampering with cocaine being processed in San Francisco’s crime lab earlier this year caused the dismissmal of hundreds of criminal cases in San Francisco and is jeopardizing thousands more.

“As prosecutors we have an affirmative obligation under the law to provide any potentially exculpatory information to the defense and we all take that ethical obligation seriously,” noted Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

“We appreciate officials from the Central Valley Crime Lab and Bureau of Forensic Services bringing this matter to our immediate attention.  We all have worked with the Ripon crime lab for many years and retain faith in the integrity of the lab and its personnel,” she added.
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