Faked Lab Report Used in Trial “An Honest Mistake,” San Jose PD Claims
There are many parts of an arrest or criminal prosecution that a criminal defense attorney may seize upon to successfully defend a criminal case: arrest procedures, search warrants, admissible evidence or any number of other details. However, one recent case highlights a basis for legal challenge that you may not have encountered before: fake lab reports.
Of course, evidence has been fabricated or planted in many criminal cases, but unless there is a clear reason to believe that this could have happened, it’s not a common strategic legal challenge. Even more rare is the accidental use of fabricated evidence ‒ that is, before a recent northern California case.
Detective Matthew Christian of the San Jose police department had fabricated a DNA lab report with the name of a fictitious lab analyst to use as a prop in questioning a suspect accused of sex crimes. The practice of giving a suspect misinformation during an interrogation is legal and not uncommon, and so Christian’s actions were perfectly within departmental policy.
However, the report ended up being used by the department prosecutors as part of its case against the suspect. Though an actual lab report of a blanket found at the scene of the crime found no DNA evidence and was also included in the department information folder, the prosecution used the faked report without recognizing that no lab analyst at the department had the name on the report.
The suspect’s defense team asked for more information about the lab report but were denied twice. In fact, the discrepancy in the lab reports was not noticed until defense lawyers sought the resume of the fictitious lab technician. The court even went so far as to include the fictitious lab analyst in its list of witnesses to testify at trial!
After the discovery that the key piece of evidence in the trial was completely false, charges were dropped in the case upon agreement by both legal teams. The defendant returned to court with a motion to declare him formally innocent of the charges, which the judge declined to do, despite the fact that the suspect had no criminal history of sex crimes.
A police department internal committee investigating the matter ruled that the fabrication of the report and its failure to be identified as a fake by the court and the prosecuting lawyers was “an honest mistake.” Since then, the department has banned the practice of using falsified lab reports to persuade suspects to confess crimes.
However, that policy change comes a little too late for one man whose life has been ruined, he claims, over “an honest mistake.”