For release on May 5, 2014
CONTACT: ELEVATED METHAMPHETAMINE CRIME LAB TEST FOUND, FIXED
David Angel, Assistant District Attorney
The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office has found and fixed a two-month error in crime lab testing for the presumptive presence of methamphetamine. The Office is disclosing the issue to defendants, and taking steps to ensure future tests are accurately generated. The one-time error caused six methamphetamine test results taken from January through March to show a presumptive “positive” test, which were later determined by a confirmatory test to be “negative.” None of these six individuals are in-custody based upon the potentially erroneous presumptive result. One case is civil and not criminal, and in one case charges were never filed. In another case, a defendant pleaded “No Contest” and was sentenced to jail after the presumptive test result erroneously gave a “positive” for methamphetamine. However, further testing confirmed he was “negative” for methamphetamine, but he was “positive” for PCP. The PCP test was not available at the time of the defendant’s plea. The attorneys for all the potentially affected defendants have been notified. The D.A.’s Office is also notifying about 2,500 defendants and their lawyers that their test results were processed during the period in question, even though these tests have already been re-evaluated and determined to be accurate. Said District Attorney Jeff Rosen: “Human error will always exist within the criminal justice system. However, it is vital that we quickly find any possible mistakes and quickly fix them. We did that in this case.” When testing blood or urine for the presence of drugs, the Crime Lab performs a presumptive screening test. Each sample is tested twice, and the results are either “positive,” “negative,” or “inconclusive.” All “inconclusive” tests are tested further. “Positives” and “negatives” are reported as such. An “inconclusive” or “negative” result does not necessarily indicate the absence of methamphetamine in the blood. Rather, because the Crime Lab adheres to the highest accreditation standards, it will report as “negative” or “inconclusive” those cases where the presence of methamphetamine is present in the person’s system, but below a certain threshold. A criminalist in April discovered the error, caused when another criminalist created control standards for the test using an incorrect compound that increased the test’s sensitivity. Pending a review, the analyst who made the initial mistake has been re-assigned from drug testing duties. As part of the review, four years of methamphetamine test control results were back-checked and ratified as accurate. Freshlycreated drug control samples will be documented and double-checked by a second criminalist prior to use and test control standard reagents will be labeled more clearly.