Mar. 4-A York County lawyer is fighting state officials for access to records on how the Maine crime lab operates, including those concerning a technician who quit while the state was pursuing disciplinary action.
Amy Fairfield said she's seeking in-depth records on the operations of the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory because scientific evidence, particularly DNA analysis, has become a critical and sometimes deciding part of criminal court cases. She said Mainers should have more information on how the state's sole criminal laboratory analyzes evidence.
In a filing in York County Superior Court, Fairfield said records she's seeking include information on employee disciplinary action over lab procedures. She said the state has withheld information about a technician who quit while the state was pursuing disciplinary action.
Fairfield filed a Freedom of Access Act request to get the technician's personnel file to see if it pertains to evidence in her client's cases, and eventually received the file under a gag order after the state fought to refuse her access. She noted in her filings that a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requires states to turn over information that might call into question the analysis of scientific evidence, just as they are required to provide evidence that might clear a defendant who is on trial.
Fairfield said crime labs around the country are coming under closer scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the FBI's disclosure in 2015 that nearly every examiner in a key forensic unit gave flawed testimony about analysis of hair evidence in most of the trials in which they appeared during a two-decade period before 2000.
Those cases included 32 in which defendants were sentenced to death, 14 of whom were either executed or died in prison.
"If you look at other crime labs around the country, things are happening" and Maine's crime lab should be subject to the same scrutiny, she said. The state's lab "must open their books," Fairfield said.
In her court filing, she said that in a murder case post-conviction review that she handled, crime lab officials said they lost key evidence that they maintained proved a connection between the defendant and the victim.
In response to Fairfield's initial information request, state officials turned over thousands of pages of documents, but Fairfield said they largely amounted to training manuals and lists of the lab's procedures. Fairfield said she should also get to see accreditation reports, records on disciplinary action taken against employees and other documents related to the quality of the lab's work.
A hearing will be held Thursday to determine where the case stands and Fairfield wants the head of the Maine crime lab to testify about her request. The state is seeking to quash the subpoena she issued to the lab director and Fairfield is asking a York County Superior Court judge to rule that the lab head must testify about why her request for more information was denied.
A spokesman for the Maine Attorney General's Office declined to comment about the case Wednesday evening.
Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this report.