DUI tests dubious, poor training rampant at state toxicology lab, critics say
Any government functionary worth his or her bennies knows that the ideal time for a document dump -- a release of some embarrassing matter you really don't want to talk about -- is late on Friday afternoon. And that goes double for the report Colorado Attorney General John Suthers saw fit to send along to the state's prosecutors and the criminal defense bar in the waning minutes before the close of business on June 7, detailing sizable problems in the state toxicology lab that may have an impact on the outcome of hundreds, if not thousands, of DUI cases.
Defense attorneys are hopping mad about the report, which delves into employee concerns about inadequate training, unsafe storage of evidence, understaffing, supervisor bias and other issues at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's toxicology lab, which performs various blood and drug screening tests for law enforcement agencies across the state. But they're even more furious that Suthers didn't release the report until last Friday -- even though an accompanying letter acknowledges that the report was completed in March and contained information "that could be considered mitigating evidence in the prosecution of certain criminal cases in which the CDPHE lab was involved."
"Hundreds of people have gone through the court system in the past three months without knowing about these problems or that the evidence in their case could be compromised," said Sean McDermott, president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, at a press conference outside the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center this morning. The CCDB is calling for an independent investigation fo the CPHE lab and greater use of independent labs in the state justice system.
The state processes close to 30,000 drunk-driving arrests a year. Most of the cases never go to trial because of the blood-alcohol (or breath) testing done by the CDPHE. But DUI lawyers have increasingly questioned the competence of the lab and the credibility of supervisor Cynthia Burbach, who is also the target of many of the employee complaints that triggered an investigation and lengthy report by the Mountain States Employers Council. Burbach retired from the CDPHE after thirty years, just days before Suthers released the report.
Continue for more about today's news conference, including the complete report.