Proposal could hide forensic failures from public

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation

ByChuck Goudie and Ann Pistone via WLS logo
Wednesday, June 1, 2016
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ABC7 I-Team investigates forensics errors.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Nine months after the I-Team uncovered a pattern of forensic failures in the Illinois State Police crime lab, the General Assembly has passed a proposal that could keep such information from the public.

The I-Team found a culture of law and disorder at state police crime labs last fall. We obtained internal audits and reports that revealed blood and urine testing errors and bad testing methods that jeopardized criminal cases. Now, legislation headed to Gov. Bruce Rauner would allow state police officials to make up their own rules and keep such information from defendants and the public.

"It's a sheep in wolves clothing," said Wheaton defense attorney Don Ramsell.

Ramsell regularly subpoenas test results and data from the crime lab when he defends motorists charged with drunken driving.

Under a proposal passed by the Illinois House on Tuesday, Ramsell says state police will be able to withhold some of the most crucial crime lab information. Including, he says, the kinds of mistakes uncovered by the I-Team last year. These mistakes included: test samples switched, names that didn't match, wrongly run vials of evidence, general inaccuracies, incorrect methods and destruction of evidence.

"It's an attempt by the Illinois state police crime lab to try to limit the amount of information they have to turn over to the defense. This way they can hide whatever mistakes errors or method problems that you and the I-Team discovered last year," said Ramsell.

The forensic failures discovered by the I-Team last fall appeared to put criminal cases in jeopardy and raised the possibility that charges and convictions would have to be thrown out due to faulty lab tests.

But the legislation headed to the governor's desk would allow state crime lab officials to insulate themselves from future failures.

Ramsell says they will do this by keeping the information under wraps.

"The purpose of the law is to prevent the defense attorneys from getting any of the information we have been able to get in the past. They are going to try to set up rules so the mistakes and errors don't become the types of information they have to turn over any more," said Ramsell.

Ramsell says this would be the first law in the U.S. Allowing a police crime lab to decide what information to provide to defendants and attorneys.

The Illinois State Police did not immediately respond Wednesday to our questions about their role in getting the legislation passed, but following our original reporting the state police director defended crime lab testing methods.

No word on how Gov. Rauner looks at this, but the bill will be on his desk.

For more information on this legislation, click here.