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Landmark Decision in Nassau Crime Lab Scandal

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Newsday just wrote a revealing editorial about the ongoing Nassau County Crime lab scandal. The editorial said that it would be a big task to clean up the damage caused by the lab's incorrect analyses of thousands of criminal cases. They pointed out -- for the first time -- a Nassau County judge set aside the cocaine conviction of one of those tainted drug cases. Prosecutors agreed that Khurram Shahzad's drug conviction must be thrown out because of faulty lab procedures. Shahzad's attorney Scott Gross said "This is a landmark decision in that this means that courts will no longer accept tainted evidence and use it as a basis for convictions."

I covered the crime lab story on Huffington Post in early February of 2011 when Nassau County District Attorney, Kathleen Rice suddenly tried to down-play the seriousness of the issue.

Rice tried to appoint her own special crime lab prosecutor but the judge assigned to the case denied her bid. No doubt, she could have been trying to sweep the damage under the rug so they would not have to retry hundreds, if not thousands, of Rockefeller Drug Law cases which would in theory bankrupt Nassau County. Governor Andrew Cuomo saw the seriousness of the case and appointed State Inspector General, Ellen Biben, to lead an investigation into potential impropriety at the Nassau County crime lab which was shut down. In March 2011, Newsday reported that additional errors were found. This meant that the 3,000 or so drug cases in question might have to be retested. I wondered how Nassau County was going to cover up this legal nightmare.

I would like to say at this point, no one has been held accountable for the Nassau County crime lab's demise despite the lab's problems. Second -- and most importantly -- the report released by Inspector General Biben criticized officials and pointed out that as many as 10 percent of all criminal drug tests performed at the lab were problematic.

What this means is that potentially several hundred cases have been tainted by the testing procedures used by the lab. What is going to happen to the people who are currently serving prison sentences based on problematic evidence? Will their cases be re-evaluated like Khurram Shahzad's? Or will their cases be forgotten through the rhetoric of crime and punishment politics?

It was reported that $140,000 was set aside to provide legal representation for those who could not afford a lawyer and whose conviction might be affected by the errors made by the Nassau crime lab. But what floored me was a statement by County Attorney John Ciampoli, who said "locating convicts who might be eligible for the funds has been difficult." And because of this, not one dollar of that money has been spent. Well this is beyond absurd, Nassau County has an obligation to find those who would be eligible for judicial relief. No one should be rotting away in prison, sentenced from a crime based on tainted evidence.

Governor Cuomo, who has been described by Time Magazine as a rising star in the democratic party, has stepped up to the plate before on this issue. It is respectfully submitted that he should continue, to ensure that justice is realized not just in the crime labs of Nassau County, but in the prisons where possibly innocent individuals remain incarcerated as a result of this growing scandal.