Scottsdale Crime Lab's faulty machine at center of court battle

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by Jared Dillingham

Bio | Email | Follow: @JaredDillingham

azfamily.com

Posted on November 20, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 7:19 PM

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- On Wednesday, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office begins its appeal of a judge's bombshell ruling, which found major problems with a piece of equipment at the Scottsdale Crime Lab.

The device was a malfunctioning blood machine, which has tested thousands of samples in DUI cases.

Attorneys who found the flawed machine said their trial also exposed other credibility problems at Scottsdale's lab.

Police departments nationwide spend a lot of time and resources getting drunk drivers off the road.

When Len Psyk was driving his vintage Volkswagen in Scottsdale in 2010, he was cuffed and arrested for DUI.

"I thought I would be in Joe Arpaio's Tent City wearing pink underwear and that's not a happy thought," Psyk said.

Psyk said he drank a single beer five hours earlier.

"I thought the blood test would come back and show this was a mistake," he said.

When the blood results came back a .11 -- way over the limit -- Psyk's attorney argued the blood test machine must have switched samples and mislabeled his blood.

The jury agreed and cleared him.

"And to have had to go through that, to go through the expense, to go through the anxiety about it all, only to find out it really was flawed equipment and flawed results," Psyk said.

Valley attorneys said Psyk wasn't alone and filed suit, claiming the Scottsdale Crime Lab's DUI blood test machine was producing unreliable evidence.

DUI attorney Craig Rosenstein said thousands of cases were processed through the machine.

"Probably north of ten thousands," he said. 

The attorneys challenged 11 specific DUI cases They said the trial exposed a cover-up. Crime Lab staff knew all along the blood machine wasn't working.

A 2010 work order shows it needed repairs for software problems and internal Scottsdale Crime Lab emails reveal two years later the blood test machine was still in use and still broken.
 
Staff referred to it as their "malfunctioning instrument" and a "problem instrument."

"People accused of a crime were having their blood tested on a broken machine that entire time," Rosenstein said.

In February, a staffer told the manufacturer their blood test machine was still causing them a lot of problems in court. Another referred to it as a hot potato no one would touch because the machine was no longer functioning.

"We have a machine with a mountain of error that should've been taken out of service on Day 1," attorney Mark DuBiel said. "Taxpayers deserve better than that."

Emails show the lab staff knew the blood test machine had problems but when some of them went to court to testify in the case, they told a different story.

One told the court, "I believe that the instrument has worked properly and that the results are reliable."

When asked, "You've never seen any mislabeling?" Another answered, "No."

The judge called the discrepancies in the testimony from the Crime Lab staff incredible and troubling.

"You're supposed to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as a witness and as a scientist," DuBiel said. 

Scottsdale police officials said they are not concerned that a judge ruled some of the evidence gathered by their officers was compromised for years by a malfunctioning machine.

"We have confidence in the machine, we have confidence in the scientists that are doing the work," Sgt. Mark Clark said.

Clark said the Scottsdale Police Department isn't concerned that some of the testimony from the lab staff was misleading in court.

The police chief and county attorney still stand completely behind the lab work.

While Psyk commends officers for keeping the streets safe from drunk drivers, his attorneys wonder how many others have been wrongfully accused.

"It certainly calls into question their credibility," Rosenstein said.

The Crime Lab is using another blood machine right now.

All sides will be in court Wednesday as the appeals process continues.

The attorneys advise anyone who thinks their DUI case could have been affected by the blood test machine to have an attorney review their files.

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