Two local attorneys have filed a formal complaint against the Michigan State Police Crime Lab, suggesting the agency should be made into an independent entity, but state officials have refuted the accusations of negligence and incompetence.
Southfield-based attorneys Neil Rockind and Michael Komorn filed the complaint with Gerry LaPorte, the director of the National Institute of Justice, Office of Investigative and Forensic Sciences in Washington D.C.
In it, the attorneys accuse the lab of negligence and incompetence, resulting in “findings, integrity and reliability that are in serious doubt,” a press release states.
Michigan State Police find “the claims of this small group of defense attorneys wholly without merit,” according to a statement.
The attorneys accuse the lab of allowing prosecutors to control reporting regarding whether marijuana is natural or synthetic, leading to basic misdemeanors being elevated to felonies for possession or manufacture of synthetic marijuana, the attorneys said.
“Compromising forensic science as a matter of course in order to support a felony prosecution is abhorrent and illegal,” Rockind said.
“(The Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan) is interfering with the reporting of scientific results, revealing a co-dependence between the association and the crime lab that is antithetical to independent and objective forensic reporting.”
The forensic science division of the Michigan State Police changed its policy for reporting marijuana and THC in 2013 “in an effort to standardize reporting practices … and to ensure laboratory reports only include findings that can be proved scientifically,” MSP officials said.
“With the influx of synthetic drugs into the laboratory system, it became necessary to ensure reporting standards were in place across all labs. As is common practice in the (Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division), involved laboratory personnel were given the opportunity to discuss the proposed changes and provide their insight before a final decision was made by laboratory leadership.”
Ultimately, it was decided that the phrase “origin unknown” would be used for samples where it could not be scientifically proven that the THC originated from plant-based material.
“For example, if a sample is submitted to the lab that is clearly from a plant-based source, the results will indicate the sample is marijuana,” officials said.
“If it is not clear that the submitted sample is from a plant-based source because it is an extract, residue or another compound with no visible plant matter, then the report will indicate whether or not THC —— the illegal component of the sample —— is present, but the source of the THC will not be identified because the source cannot be scientifically established.” In such an instance, the sample would be listed as “origin unknown.”
Michigan State Police clarified the situation in July, amending the “origin unknown” phrase to say “The origin of delta-1-tetrahydrocannabinol may be from a plant (marihuana) or a synthetic source,” officials said.
The decision was made in the best interest of science, according to Michigan State Police.
“The allegation that politics or influence from any outside entity played a role in this policy change is wholly untrue,” officials said.
“Further, the MSP rejects the allegation that an internal policy change to ensure standardization regarding how test results are reported rises to the level of negligence or misconduct. As in all criminal cases, the charging decision rests with the prosecutor who makes their decision based upon all the relevant evidence in a case, of which the laboratory report is but one factor.”
The attorneys’ complaint also accuses the lab of under-reporting of uncertainty in blood alcohol analysis, as well as a failure to analyze and scientifically establish a limit of detection for analytes, including THC, over-criminalizing the presence of any amount of a Schedule I substance in an operator’s system while driving.
“Our formal letter of complaint is intended to launch a serious and objective review of the practices of the crime lab by the National Institute of Justice,” Rockind said.
In the complaint, the attorneys suggest that the crime lab should be separated from the state police.
“Ultimately, the crime lab must be made an independent entity and brought out from underneath the very law enforcement agency that collects the evidence and seeks prosecution: the Michigan State Police,” states the complaint, which calls for a sound audit and an investigation.
“The importance of this investigation is vital,” the complaint states.
“Without accountability the lab has no check to try to ensure quality assurance practices are followed and not just discussed to the public via general statements and in court.”
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