An independent agency will review an estimated 4,000 drug cases in Nassau County after officials from the medical examiner's office uncovered errors at the police crime lab, officials announced Tuesday.
Nassau's county executive closed the drug testing section of that crime lab last week.
"No one is more upset about this than I," said District Attorney Kathleen Rice. She added that independent experts will examine both the quantity and quality of drugs entered into evidence in the thousand of cases under review.
Then came the question that hangs over law enforcement in Nassau. Could people in prison be released? Rise said she isn't sure, and that authorities will "look at this on a case by case basis."
The possibility does exist, defense lawyers contended, that innocent people have been jailed in drug cases based on faulty evidence from the lab.
Already, 16 defense motions seeking judicial reviews or reopening of drug cases have been filed, according to the DA. More are likely.
"The credibility of the entire lab has been undermined," said Marc Gann, president of the Nassau county Bar Association. Gann has called for the closing of the entire lab.
For now, crime lab errors extend only to drug cases, according to DA Rice.
But defense lawyers have insisted the errors will touch criminal cases in all areas.
"This is the first domino to fall, the narcotics cases," said veteran defense lawyer Bruce Barket. "But eventually this will involve all sorts of cases and will be quite a headache."
The Nassau Police Department, which ran the lab until last December, refused comment.
Several officers who worked in the lab have been reassigned.