Cognitive bias has been shown in many studies to be an issue in state crime labs.  In other words, if crime labs feel as though they are on the prosecution and police’s “team” then even the most honest workers are at risk for unintended bias and the dishonest ones, well just look at the innumerable crime lab scandals, overturned convictions, and even wrongful conviction cases.  In a new study for the journal of Criminal Justice Ethics, Roger Koppl and Megan Sacks (from Syracuse University and Fairleigh Dickinson University) look at how the criminal justice system incentivizes and even can encourage wrongful convictions.

Funding crime labs through court-assessed fees creates another channel for bias to enter crime lab analyses. In jurisdictions with this practice the crime lab receives a sum of money for each conviction of a given type. Ray Wickenheiser says, ‘‘Collection of court costs is the only stable source of funding for the Acadiana Crime Lab. $10 is received for each guilty plea or verdict from each speeding ticket, and $50 from each DWI (Driving While Impaired) and drug offense.’’

In Broward County, Florida, ‘‘Monies deposited in the Trust Fund are principally court costs assessed upon conviction of driving or boating under the influence ($50) or selling, manufacturing, delivery, or possession of a controlled substance ($100).’’

Several state statutory schemes require defendants to pay crime laboratory fees upon conviction. North Carolina General Statutes require, ‘‘[f]or the services of’’ the state or local crime lab, that judges in criminal cases assess a $600 fee to be charged ‘‘upon conviction’’ and remitted to the law enforcement agency containing the lab whenever that lab ‘‘performed DNA analysis of the crime, tests of bodily fluids of the defendant for the presence of alcohol or controlled substances, or analysis of any controlled substance possessed by the defendant or the defendant’s agent.’’

Illinois crime labs receive fees upon convictions for sex offenses, controlled substance offenses, and those involving driving under the influence. Mississippi crime labs require crime laboratory fees for various conviction types, including arson, aiding suicide, and driving while intoxicated.

Similar provisions exist in Alabama, New Mexico, Kentucky, New Jersey, Virginia, and, until recently, Michigan. Other states have broadened the scope even further.

Washington statutes require a $100 crime lab fee for any conviction that involves lab analysis.

Kansas statutes require offenders ‘‘to pay a separate court cost of $400 for every individual offense if forensic science or laboratory services or forensic computer examination services are provided in connection with the investigation.’’

In addition to those already listed, the following states also require crime lab fees in connection with various conviction types: Arizona, California, Missouri, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

So, each analyst knows that a test that implicates a suspect means money and a test that clears a suspect means no money.  They literally get paid to provide a “winning” test to the state.  This doesn’t factor in truth or justice, mind you.  These analysts are then shown to juries as completely careful and competent in their work.

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