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March 2004
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Sloppy evidence and unethical state officials

Ross, a defense attorney and regular reader of Drug WarRant (nice to know!), tipped me off to this story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
Arnold Melnikoff is being fired for sloppy work. For years he’s been working for the state of Washington, as a crime lab forensic scientist, doing tests that end up as evidence in trials, and often end up being the basis for lengthy prison sentences. An audit determined that he used improper procedures in his work — an audit that was called because several of his “convictions” ended up exonerated by other testing.

Ten of the 14 cases criticized in the audit as having “insufficient” data to identify substances could not be retested because law enforcement agencies had discarded the evidence, Logan said.

The audit described Melnikoff’s overall drug-analysis work as “sloppy” and “built around speed and shortcuts.”

In the previous five years, he’d handled 1,315 drug cases for almost 100 federal, county and municipal law enforcement agencies, according to State Patrol records.

The kicker? The Seattle Post Intelligencer discovered that a year after the audit, state officials had not notified anyone about these flaws. Now, three days after their investigative report, the state is grudgingly releasing some of the information to some of the county prosecutors.

Defense attorneys also weighed in yesterday, saying it wasn’t up to crime lab officials to decide whether Melnikoff’s alleged mistakes warranted disclosure.

“That’s like asking the fox to watch the henhouse,” said Roger Hunko, president of the 750-member Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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