The third Republican primary debate and crime lab tampering newsletter

Grand Old Messes: The Republican Debate, and Massive Evidence-Tampering Scandals

Grand Old Messes: The Republican Debate, and Massive Evidence-Tampering Scandals

What’s happening.
Oct. 29 2015 5:40 PM

Grand Old Messes

The third Republican debate, and evidence-tampering scandals that yielded many, many wrongful convictions.

Candidates John Kasich, Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and Rand Paul at the CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at University of Colorado’s Coors Events Center, Oct. 28, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado.

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images


What’s a bigger mess: American politics or American criminal justice? The GOP debate was unruly, sure, but the crime lab scandals in Massachusetts are far, far more troubling.


Rubio is being crowned everywhere; Jeb!’s exclamation point is shriveling.

Marco did well, it’s true. And across the Web, pundits are declaring Jeb’s campaign doomed, but that’s now a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bush wasn’t alone; truth was also a big loser at the debate. When the moderators confronted the candidates with facts and figures proving their statements false, the presidential hopefuls reacted by calling the media biased and mean. I watched the spectacle and agree with Helaine Olen that CNBC was awful at clarifying those moments, and awful at hosting in general. Unruly debates can be fun, but the moderators failed to hold the candidates to account or to maintain any sense of control. It was a bad look for the network. No wonder the country is scared of politicians.

This is truly scary: Massive crime lab scandals have wrongfully convicted thousands of people, and there’s no simple way to correct it.

In Massachusetts, one chemist falsified thousands of drug tests. As many as 40,000 people were convicted based on evidence from these tests. Another crime lab technician in the state pled guilty to tainting as many as 10,000 prosecutions, because she was addicted to drugs and stole them from the evidence room, tampered with samples, and performed tests under the influence of drugs as diverse as crack, LSD, and MDMA. An investigation has shown that her tampering lasted nearly a decade. She spent 18 months in prison, but people convicted as a result have not had sentencing relief.


So what should be done? The ACLU has argued that each of the resulting convictions should be vacated, but the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has refused, instead capping some of the defendants’ sentences at what they agreed to in plea agreements. This sad problem stretches well beyond Massachusetts: Crime lab scandals have plagued at least 20 states and the FBI, and tens of thousands of lives have been ruined because of them without recompense or accountability. Criminal justice in America, ladies and gentlemen.

The truth is safe in libraries, not so much in clothing stores.

I read the news today, oh boy,
Seth Maxon
Home page editor for nights and weekends

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