New York City Medical Examiner’s Lab DNA Testing Potentially Unreliable

Attorneys for the Legal Aid Society and Federal Defenders of New York have requested that New York State inspector general’s office open an investigation on the New York City medical examiner’s lab. The attorneys are questioning the reliability of two different DNA testing techniques that the lab had been using.

One of those techniques was actually developed by the lab as a way to identify the remains of victims from 9/11. The lab then used that technique on 1,350 cases it has processed in the past six years. The other technique, referred to as a low copy number analysis, was used on approximately 3,450 cases during the last 11 years. Neither one of the techniques is being used by the lab anymore since newer technology has been developed.

According to the attorneys, the medical examiner’s office discovered issues with the tests and corrected them, however, the office never notified anyone that there were multiple cases which had potentially incorrect matches. Attorneys are also alleging that the lab manipulated data and then made false statements regarding the methodology to the agency which oversees the lab, the Commission on Forensic Sciences.

The medical examiner’s lab is the largest one in the country, processing approximately 40,000 items each year for different criminal cases, including murder, assault, rape, and weapons charges.

The attorneys calling for the investigation question how many people have been wrongly convicted and how many guilty people are walking around free because of the type of tests and methods used.

This isn’t the first time the lab’s methods have been called into question. The FBI and other critics of the testing methods say these methods are unreliable and often inconclusive.

There is also a debate in criminal courts, with judges disagreeing about the merits of the testing. In 2015, a Brooklyn state Supreme Court judge threw out the evidence, citing the fact that DNA experts did not agree on the validity of the testing methods. This ruling was made despite an earlier one by a Queens judge who found that the testing methods were valid.

The Commission has not used a decision on whether they would open an investigation per the attorneys’ request. Attorney Jeffrey Lichtman agreed that the request for an investigation should be granted. “If there is even a question that innocent people have been convicted because of bad DNA testing, there shouldn’t be hesitation to an investigation by the Commission or any other state agency,” he said.

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