DENVER (AP) — Blood testing for drugs and alcohol will be suspended at a Colorado laboratory lab after defense attorneys raised concerns about the objectivity of the process and the possibility of appeals to thousands of drunk-driving convictions.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Friday that work will be suspended effective July 3, but its lab will process samples already being tested. Unprocessed samples will be sent to another lab.
Concerns about the lab stem from a March report by an employee consulting firm that said some workers of the lab at CDPHE complained that a supervisor made statements suggesting a bias in favor of prosecutors. The report also said refrigerators containing blood samples were unlocked.
The supervisor in question was reassigned and later retired.
Defense attorneys questioned why state officials did not release a report on the problems until earlier this month, even though it was completed in March.
CDPHE Executive Director Dr. Chris Urbina announced his resignation earlier this month, after the report was made public, but he didn’t cite the problems at the lab and neither did state officials. Friday was the effective date of his resignation. In making the announcement, he said he was “stepping down to explore other opportunities.”
Members of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar have said the appeals could come in cases as serious as vehicular homicides. Prosecutors, however, have said it’s an overstatement that many cases were compromised. They note that the report did not conclude that anyone lied on the stand or that samples were tainted.
The health department laboratory is one of at least three that law-enforcement officials can use to test blood samples for alcohol content.
DDPHE officials will have an independent lab retest 800 random samples from the last 12 months “to verify the state toxicology lab’s blood-alcohol test results,” Urbina said.
“We take seriously the concerns from law enforcement, public defenders and the public — and this is the best way for us to verify the accuracy of testing at the toxicology lab,” he said.
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