20 years ago, DNA evidence was just becoming mainstream. Before it became one of the most damning pieces of evidence against accused persons, it had to be vetted, not only by members of the judicial system, but also in the public mind. In 2014, it seems that no one questions DNA evidence, or the evidence given by crime lab experts when they testify in court. Their testimony seems to be taken, especially by juries, to be unimpeachable, almost perfect. However, one study published in Criminal Justice Ethics (by Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks) reveals that crime labs are regularly given incentives to ‘find’ specific evidence that will falsely lead to convictions. This kind of evidence, as you can imagine, is of the utmost importance in any trial involving an accusation of sexual assault, child molestation (CA Penal Code 288) or other sex-related crimes.
It seems that crime labs across the country are paid a fee (included in what are often referred to as ‘court costs’) for each guilty verdict that the evidence they provide leads to. These monies are doled out for DUI convictions, speeding tickets, arson, and any other criminal investigation that you can think of. For example, the study shows that, in North Carolina, as much as $600 may be awarded by a jury to the crime lab providing evidence, but only after the trial in question has resulted in a conviction. For instance, CA Penal Code 1404-1405 states that anyone who is convicted of a crime involving DNA evidence must pay for that evidence to have been tested and used against them. This seems counterintuitive now that there is ample cause to believe that some crime labs must ‘force’ results in order to stay in business. It seems to be a matter of economics and not simply an interest in carrying out the necessary steps for justice to be served.