Rape Kits Mishandled at NYC Lab

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Another medical examiner's office has discovered serious problems with their analysis of DNA evidence in criminal cases. Just a month ago, The Takeaway reported on a rogue medical technician in Massachusetts, a technician who allegedly tampered with thousands of cases during her tenure at the state crime lab.

This time the New York City Medical Examiner has announced that the office is reviewing more than 800 rape kits, cases handled by a former lab technician who made a series of incorrect reports over the course of ten years, from 2001 to 2011. 

The Medical Examiner has already discovered 26 mishandled rape kits in which biological evidence was completely overlooked or contaminated by the lab, though Ellen Borakove, spokesperson for the office of the chief medical examiner, says, in a statement: "One technician was responsible for errors. The technician no longer works at [the office]...No one was wrongfully convicted. We have improved supervision and training."

"Contamination can occur in any number of ways, by the analyst contaminating the evidence herself, or cross-contaminating evidence from one kit to another," says Lawrence Kobilinsky, forensic scientist and chair of the science department at John Jay College. Koblinsky also distinguishes between identification tests, which the technician in question performed, and actual DNA tests. 

"Although it's true that this particular analyst may not have worked on the analysis portion and only on the identification portion," counters Erin Murphy, professor of at New York University School of Law, "Part of the problem here is that when they went to check her work in these very basic tests of analysis, it turned out that she had also been violating protocol by working on multiple cases at the same time," mixing evidence from different cases as a result.

"It seems as though there are at least three hits to convicted offenders," Murphy continues, "which seems to indicate that there were, because of this technician's work, some missed cases, or cases in which they could have identified a possible perpetrator but failed to."