February 18, 2011 / 10:19 PM / 9 years ago

New York county crime lab closed down in probe

MINEOLA, New York (Reuters) - A New York government crime lab was shut down on Friday as part of a probe into whether drug evidence was being tested accurately, authorities said, in a move that could prompt prisoners to seek to have their convictions overturned.

Some 9,000 drug cases from 2007 to 2010 at the Nassau County Crime Lab are under review, with evidence in some cases being retested for accuracy, said Nassau County, N.Y. District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Lab supervisors are being investigated for a possible cover-up because they knew about trouble in the drug-testing section in September 2010, Rice said. That was three months before release of a report by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors that triggered the probe and put the lab on probation.

“In light of the information about the supervisors, I requested the County Executive immediately shut down all sections of the crime lab until our review is complete,” Rice said.

The shut-down is a “precautionary measure,” she said.

So far six cases involving the drugs Ecstasy and Ketamine were tested incorrectly, and the defendants were not charged properly, Rice said.

Some were charged with felonies when they should have been charged with misdemeanors, she said.

Other people now imprisoned could “possibly” see their convictions overturned, Rice said.

So far, 16 attorneys have filed motions in court for their clients challenging the evidence in their cases.

Defense attorney Vincent Trimarco Jr. of Smithtown, N.Y., said he was looking at his cases to see if he should make any motions.

“Maybe a client took a plea based on evidence he believed was factual, but if that evidence was not tested properly maybe he should not have plead guilty,” Trimarco said.

Rice said the shutdown would not affect current court cases in Nassau County, just east of New York City on Long Island.

Reporting by Sophia Hall; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune

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