DAILY JOURNAL NEWSWIRE ARTICLE
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April 20, 2009
LIES PUT FORENSIC CASES IN JEOPARDY
By Jason W. Armstrong
Daily Journal Staff Writer
RIVERSIDE - Defense attorneys are questioning the viability of evidence in thousands of criminal cases in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties because defendants' blood and urine tests were conducted by a forensic lab technician who admitted to fudging his analysis in a previous job.
Lawyers are frantically digging for information on every case Aaron Layton tested on behalf of Riverside-based Bio-Tox Laboratories over two years with the company until he was fired in February. Thousands of cases in the three counties that contract with Bio-Tox have been thrown into question, attorneys and some judges say, because Layton acknowledged lying hundreds of times about his testing while working at a Colorado lab eight years ago.
A Riverside County judge last week ordered Bio-Tox to produce a detailed list of nearly 4,000 county criminal defendants whose cases were tested by Layton. In San Diego, a defense attorney fired off a letter to the city's police department Wednesday urging a probe of potentially thousands of cases Bio-Tox analyzed while Layton worked there.
Layton's toxicology tests "are significant in a wide variety of investigations and prosecutions, from cases involving alleged driving while under the influence, to manslaughter and murder," Mary Frances Prevost wrote the department. "Layton's admissions raise the specter that testing results Bio-Tox supplied to [police] were untrustworthy," she said.
San Diego police officials did not respond to a request for comment Friday. Prevost contends the department has a duty to investigate whether lab results were compromised because of funding it receives from a forensic science improvement grant.
Layton did not respond to a request for comment. He has declined to comment in published reports.
So far, no cases in any of the counties have been tossed out over Layton's testing. San Bernardino County prosecutors have identified about 4,800 cases Layton analyzed but say they are only obligated to notify defense lawyers about cases in which Layton testified in trial. San Bernardino County Public Defender Doreen Boxer said she intends to go to court to get the entire list.
San Diego County prosecutors said they are still compiling a list of cases Layton tested in their jurisdiction while working at Bio-Tox. The county and the city of San Diego both contract with the company for criminal forensic testing.
Bio-Tox denies any misconduct. Representatives say they are retesting cases Layton handled. Several hundred they've checked so far have been consistent with the initial results, company officials have said.
However, in Riverside County, Supervising Deputy Public Defender Christine Voss said her office got a different test result than Layton reported in one DUI case. That case was dismissed - not because of Layton's analysis but because of Riverside County Superior Court overcrowding.
"We're trying to unravel the degree of the problem," Voss said Friday. "[Layton's] admissions clearly raise concerns for cases. We have a situation where many people have pled guilty and gone to trial based on his test results."
She said her office might attempt to get convictions overturned depending on what the investigation reveals.
Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco could not be reached Friday.
The controversy sparked in December when Riverside prosecutors conducted a background check on 30-year-old Layton when he was listed as a potential witness for misdemeanor DUI trials. During the check, they came across results of polygraph tests Layton took while applying for an Ohio police department job in 2003. They found that he admitted to lying about conducting tests for Colorado criminal cases while working for Denver-based Forensics Laboratories Inc. in 2001. Layton also acknowledged forging supervisors' signatures on lab documents to make it falsely appear he had checked test results.
Layton was fired from Forensics Laboratories for unrelated reasons.
Riverside prosecutors alerted defense attorneys and the court. They also told Denver authorities, who said they are investigating thousands of cases Layton tested there. He has not been prosecuted in connection with his forensic testing.
The Riverside County Public Defender's office had gone to court Wednesday seeking a list of all cases Layton had worked on, including tests in San Bernardino and San Diego counties. But Judge Jorge Hernandez ordered Bio-Tox to itemize only Riverside County cases. Hernandez said it didn't appear that the company was trying to hide information and he wanted defense lawyers to show evidence of problems with Layton's work before ordering case information from other counties.
He ordered Bio-Tox to submit the case list by April 30.
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