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More trouble at Colorado's toxicology lab

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Emboldened and infuriated by the results of a newly released report, defense attorneys in Colorado are raising the specter of thousands of DUI cases having been compromised by shoddy practices at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's toxicology lab. And they're demanding a U.S. Justice Department investigation.

In January of this year, former lab technician Monte DiPalma e-mailed the Denver District Attorney's Office, alleging a number of sloppy and unprofessional practices within the lab. He made clear that he felt supervisor Cynthia Burbach was to blame.

In an exclusive, the Colorado Springs Independent published these allegations ("Chronic problems," News, Feb. 6), and soon after CDPHE hired an outside organization, Mountain States Employers Council, to investigate.

Last week, Burbach resigned. And this week, the state attorney general's office released a redacted version of MSEC's report, dated March 18. In it, the investigator finds that DiPalma's claims — for instance, that the lab maintained inadequate training protocols and that at least one supervisor was overly sympathetic to prosecutors — are justifiable.

In a letter accompanying the report's release, Attorney General John Suthers writes, "It was apparent to my office that the report contained information that could be considered mitigating evidence in the prosecution of certain criminal cases in which the CDPHE lab was involved."

Monday, members of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar seized on this statement, and also blasted CDPHE's withholding of the report for nearly three months. As put in an e-mail from executive director Dan Schoen to Defense Bar members, "Exculpatory evidence and information is required by statute and case law to be disclosed to criminal defendants. Failing to disclose exculpatory evidence can cause the government to be sanctioned by a court which can include the suppression of evidence, or in the case of severe violations, dismissal of the criminal case."

According to the Denver Post, prosecutors responded by saying they were confident in the lab's test results.

The Colorado Springs Police Department was among those using the lab for testing from 2010 until this year, when it signed a contract with a private Boulder firm. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has said it will continue to use CDPHE for testing.


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