Sunday, March 09, 2008

Altered Evidence: How the State Explains the alteration of evidence in its possession

Consider this: The forensic detective examines the purported murder weapon, notes the existence of black debris on it--debris that seems to have come from contact with a tire. The detective considers its importance, discusses with his supervisor how best to preserve it, and decides to leave the debris intact and send the weapon to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) crime lab. But when the weapon arrives at the state crime lab, its analysts note that no such debris exists. What's happened to it?

We wondered about that in Todd's case.

So did the trial judge who accused the state of "dropping the ball."

The state never offered an explanation at Todd's trial, but Patricia Van Horn, the attorney representing the people in Todd's appeal, came up with a creative answer:

"It is true that the substance disappeared from the knife while in the custody of law enforcement. But there is nothing to show that law enforcement was responsible for destroying it. The substance was still present when the detectives placed the knife in the envelope to be transported to CBI, and the substance may have simply oxidized or been chemically altered to a non-detectable form by exposure to air in the envelope." (a direct quotation from Van Horn's brief, p. 11)

Bad science or magical thinking? You be the judge.