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Ventura County Focus

Sheriff to Review Crime Lab's Work

November 12, 1997|SCOTT HADLY

Ventura County Sheriff Larry Carpenter on Tuesday outlined several changes he intends to make at the county crime lab to rebuild public confidence in the facility and to correct any problems it has had with testing.

While another lab conducts blood-alcohol testing of drunk-driving suspects in the county, Carpenter plans a 30- to 60-day review of how the county lab conducts such tests.

"It is hoped that at the conclusion of this review, and with the assignment of additional staff, any concerns regarding the competency of the Forensic Alcohol Section of the Sheriff's Crime Lab will be alleviated," Carpenter said in a prepared statement.

Because of flawed testing and problems with the lab's certification to handle blood-alcohol tests, hundreds of drunk-driving cases were scrutinized in the courts.

A team of defense attorneys had sought dismissal of 600 cases brought into question earlier this year after the lab continued testing despite its failing a state proficiency test by the Department of Health Services.

The lab, attorneys said, was operating in violation of several state laws.

The complex and protracted court battle that ensued was centered on the admissibility of blood, urine and breath tests conducted or overseen by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department Crime Lab.

Defense attorneys also alleged that the district attorney had withheld information about problems with the lab's testing program--information that may have helped win acquittals for some defendants.

Last month a Ventura County judge ruled that despite flaws in the county's crime lab, he would not throw out the cases. Instead, Superior Court Judge Steven Z. Perren agreed to allow some of those who have already pleaded guilty or have been convicted to contest their cases under certain circumstances.

In his 21-page decision, Perren found no intentional effort to conceal problems with the lab from defendants--namely its lack of certification to handle the blood-alcohol tests.

Carpenter said the mistakes made in testing were primarily because of the lack of an experienced supervisor.

To correct that, Carpenter plans not only to hire a new civilian lab manager, but also to add two supervising criminalists to the team that handles blood-alcohol testing at the lab.

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