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Woman sentenced to prison for mishandling evidence

North Carolina residents may be interested in the outcome of a Massachusetts case that could have lasting repercussions for thousands of the state's convicted individuals. On Nov. 22, a former chemist at the now-closed Hinton State Laboratory Institute was sentenced to three to five years in prison for numerous charges, including tampering with evidence, perjury, falsely claiming to hold a degree and 17 counts of obstruction of justice.

The 35-year-old former crime lab chemist found herself accused of a crime after police alleged that she mishandled evidence in thousands of suspected drug crimes. Prosecutors said that the woman ambitiously took on a high volume of lab work. In doing so, she confirmed evidence as containing illegal drugs without actually performing the necessary tests. Prosecutors also claimed that the chemist lied under oath as an expert witness in trials and lied about holding a master's degree in chemistry.

Authorities say her mishandling of evidence could have impacted over 40,000 criminal cases in Massachusetts. Hundreds of previously convicted individuals have been released from prison pending appeals. Prosecutors in the case had sought a five to seven year sentence, but the judge agreed to a lesser three to five year sentence after the chemist pleaded guilty to all charges.

In many cases relating to drugs or DUI, the evidence is only tested by the lab chosen by the prosecution. As this story illustrates, this can be a mistake. One lab worker falsifying evidence could lead to an innocent person being convicted or someone getting a much higher sentence than warranted. It may be a good idea for the defense to request the samples be re-tested in a different lab to make sure that the results are accurate.

Source: Reuters, "Mass. crime lab chemist sentenced to 3-5 years for tampering", Daniel Lovering, November 22, 2013

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