An unknown number of criminal and civil cases in Broward County may be flawed after it was discovered the Medical Examiner’s Office improperly tested thousands of fluid samples.
Dr. Craig Mallak, chief medical examiner, alerted State Attorney Michael Satz on Wednesday that his staff learned of the process errors on Aug. 24 and shut down the lab, sending samples to another facility.
“The methods used to test bodily fluids for drugs being processed by our toxicology laboratory had not previously been validated,” Mallak wrote to Satz. “Most likely, the results provided to the State Attorney’s Office in the past have been accurate; however, I felt a moral and ethical obligation to provide you with the information.”
Mallak became aware of the issue when he sought accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, the Sun Sentinel reports, and discovered that faulty procedures were used when testing for cocaine, heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, marijuana, amphetamines, Valium, Xanax, sleeping pills, and other over-the-counter medications. Tests for alcohol and PCP were done properly.
In Mallak’s letter, he says that staff is pulling cases from the last 10 years, meaning more than 3,000 cases could be based on erroneous lab results.
"If it's not accurate, that could throw into question convictions of DUI where the person was driving under the influence of drugs. DUI manslaughter and even murder cases," public defender Howard Finkelstein told WSVN. "The really sad part here is if we have inaccurate results, there could be people who are absolutely innocent sitting in prison as a direct result."
Mallak was appointed chief medical examiner in April, WSVN reports, replacing 17-year veteran Dr. Joshua Perper.
“We’re going to check each case and see what significance the test had,” Satz told Broward Beat. “We don’t want to go to trial with a tainted test.”
The Broward Medical Examiner's Office was previously under fire in February when more than 3,600 narcotic pills went missing.