Judge finds problems with Scottsdale Crime Lab, tosses evidence in DUI cases

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by Jared Dillingham

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azfamily.com

Posted on August 22, 2013 at 9:10 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 23 at 9:45 AM

PHOENIX -- A judge suppressed blood evidence used in a group of DUI cases from Scottsdale, citing 'malfunctioning' equipment at the Scottsdale Crime Lab.

In his ruling, after a year-long legal battle, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jerry Bernstein said he has "significant questions" about the "reliability and confidence in" a machine used to test DUI suspects' blood at the lab.

The case, filed by a group of Valley attorneys, specifically focused on 11 DUI cases, but the attorneys say Thursday's ruling could have a ripple effect.
 
"Absolutely, [anyone with a Scottsdale DUI case] should contact an attorney to have them review their case," attorney Mark DuBiel told 3TV. "Because the very first day this machine was out of the box, it had a problem."

The attorneys who filed suit to get the blood tests suppressed say software problems prevented reliable readings from the blood test equipment.

"It kept failing month after month, error after error.  When you look at it in its entirety, the results just aren't reliable," said attorney Joseph St. Louis.

"Could it affect everybody whose blood has been tested on that machine?  Yes, it could," he added.

The attorneys also say Scottsdale Crime Lab managers and staff knew of the problems, but kept using the equipment.

The judge criticized the lab staff for openly talking about problems with the equipment in inner-office emails, then denying problems with the equipment when asked about it in court.

"This [crime] lab has been misleading people about what's been going on in the lab," added attorney Lawrence Koplow.
 
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery's office plans to appeal the ruling, and Scottsdale officials are standing behind their lab, its equipment, and the staff.

Police Chief Alan Rodbell sent 3TV the following statement:

A judge has made a ruling regarding one aspect of 11 felony DUI cases being prosecuted by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO). We understand that this ruling will be appealed by the MCAO and our department is working with them on an appropriate response. As the judicial process moves forward, I continue to have complete confidence in our crime lab personnel and procedures.

His confidence in the lab equipment was echoed Thursday night by the Scottsdale City Attorney's office, which sent this statement:

The Scottsdale City Attorney’s Office maintains full confidence in the evidence evaluated by Scottsdale Police Department crime lab, and is prosecuting cases in Scottsdale City Court as normal while this ruling is appealed.

The attorneys who filed the lawsuit say Thursday's ruling makes it clear, that the crime lab needs changes.

"I think the most responsible thing for Scottsdale to do would be to take this machine out of service. Go buy a new instrument," said attorney Clifford Girard.

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