NYC Admits Bungling Rape Cases
New York City’s medical examiner’s office admitted on Jan. 11 that it is reviewing over 800 rape cases in which a lab technician’s alleged mistakes led to false results and possibly allowed rapists to walk.
The review reportedly began after technical errors in DNA tests and rape kit analyses were discovered at the hands of one technician, who quit in 2011.
The city had reviewed about half of the cases as of Jan. 11, according to the New York Times. Errors, which reach as far back as 2001, have been discovered in 26 cases in which the technician missed biological evidence, and 19 cases in which evidence from different cases was mixed together.
In seven of the cases involving missed evidence, the medical examiner’s office was able to construct DNA profiles, indicating that suspects could have been identified and prosecuted much earlier.
Only False Negatives So Far?
The lab technician identified off the record by a city official has denied responsibility, saying someone else would surely have caught any errors she made. “It couldn’t be me because your work gets checked,” she told the Times. “You have supervisors.”
The review is disturbing to many in the criminal justice system – the city and state, which could have let rapists slip through the cracks because of false negative test results of physical evidence; the victims themselves, who now worry their attackers are still at large; and criminal defense lawyers, who say false positives were also possible due of the errors.
The New York City Council reacted swiftly to the controversy, announcing it will hold an “emergency oversight hearing” on Jan. 22 to look further into the matter.
Having reportedly threatened to sue the city to get access to the files being reviewed, the organization, which represents indigent defendants in the city, is concerned that injustice may have occurred not only in these cases but in many others.
“Up to this point, they have not made information available to us, as the primary defender in New York City, to determine whether there’s an injustice that’s been done in past cases, pending cases, or allowing us to be on the lookout in future cases,” Legal Aid’s attorney-in-chief, Steven Banks, told the Times. “If it could happen with one analyst, how does anyone know that it stops there?”
Other Suits Possible
The Legal Aid Society is not the only possible source of a lawsuit against the city over the technician’s mishandling of DNA evidence.
“This is obviously a massive problem,” according to the Pathology Blawg. “The errors this person made have not only made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to solve a far-too-large number of rapes, but has called into question the reputation and findings of the entire ME office.”
“There is no word yet on any civil suits that have surfaced as a result of this issue, but I imagine many of the victims whose cases were mishandled will at least entertain the thought,” according to the author of the blog, a surgical pathologist who writes about legal and ethical issues in medicine.