Do Crime Labs Have an Inherent Conflict of Interest?

Detroit has filed for bankruptcy, and it’s obvious that Michigan’s property tax revenue stream is thinner than it once was. Municipalities have sometimes hiked fees to make up for the lost funds, and sometimes it’s obvious their attempts to Band Aid holes in their budgets are threatening the judicial system. The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko deserves kudos for taking note of people’s fears and noticing the monetary incentives now tempting over-exuberant crime analysts in the law enforcement field. His Aug. 29, 2013, article, “New Study Finds That State Crime Labs Are Paid Per Conviction,” begins with an elaboration on the cognitive bias existing when crime analysts report to a state police agency or state Attorney General’s Office. Put the analysts’ job assessments and job reviews under the microscope lens of police and prosecutors, and, of course, you’re going to find an analyst eager to use science to find a criminal. Especially these days, when the mighty dollar is of the essence.

In Balko’s latest article, he writes about a study clearly stating its premise: “The Criminal Justice Creates Incentives for False Convictions” by
Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks. He details the most noteworthy finds such as a crime lab that receives $10 for each guilty plea or verdict from a speeding ticket and $50 for each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense. Another specious fact: An Illinois crime lab receives fees upon sex offense convictions.

As Balko says, “every analyst knows that a test result implicating a suspect will result in a fee paid to the lab. Every result that clears a suspect means no fee. They’re literally being paid to provide the analysis to win convictions.”

Balko finishes his article by noting scandals that arise from such practices. Balko isn’t the only one to predict more problems from such a compromised system.