This means over 7,000 criminal cases could be botched.
At a police laboratory in Little Falls, New Jersey, a lab technician has been accused of faking a test result used as evidence in a marijuana drug case.
Kamalkant Shah reportedly recorded a test result for marijuana evidence that wasn’t properly analyzed, according to a memo from the Office of the Public Defender.
"Basically, he was observed writing 'test results' for suspected marijuana that was never tested," Public Defender Judy Fallon wrote in the memo.
Shah was suspended without pay on January 12, 2016. He’s worked at the New Jersey State Police Laboratory since 2005 and has been involved in 7,827 criminal cases — all of which have now been called into question over their legitimacy.
The assignment judge in Bergen County, Bonnie Mizdol, says that prosecutors may seek to postpone drug cases that involved Shah’s work in light of this accusation, according to NorthJersey.com.
So far, only this marijuana case has been proven to have been botched, but Fallon says there is a “universe of cases possibly implicated in this conduct.” In Passaic County alone there may be as many as 2,100 affected cases, she says.
Ernest Caposela, the assignment judge in Passaic County, says this misconduct could affect a number of accused or already-charged defendants. “The ones who are of most concern are those who are incarcerated, either awaiting trial or who have been convicted and are serving sentences,” Caposela said.
For pending cases, the samples can be resubmitted to verify the test results, but for the cases in which a defendant was convicted and is currently serving a sentence, it’s a different story. Resubmitting the samples may actually be impossible because they’re often destroyed or discarded after a case is closed.
However, defense lawyers will have the option to file appeals or seek new trials without using the questionable lab reports as evidence, so people who may be wrongfully serving sentences will have options to seek justice.
Miles Feinstein, a defense attorney, says the court system in the area could actually change as a response to Shah’s misconduct. “I think as a consequence of this, attorneys will be hesitant to stipulate state lab results, which will require lab technicians to testify in court,” Feinstein said, according to NorthJersey.com. “That could delay trials and affect the system to a great extent.”
Emile Lisboa, a defense attorney who is handling nearly 50 pending drug cases in which Shah’s reports have been offered as evidence, stresses the importance of uncovering the truth:
“There might be people who are sitting in jail with drug convictions because of this,” he said. “There are people who have been deported. There are people who lost their driver’s licenses and professional licenses.”
There have been no legal charges filed against Shah so far.