The Texas Observer had an interesting article in July about a Department of Public Safety lab technician, Jonathan Salvador, whose fabricated lab results aided in hundreds of convictions which may now be overturned. One of the dangers of a big government with many laws and zealous prosecutors is the development of a “win at any cost” mentality. This mentality often produces overzealous prosecutions, overcharging, hiding of exculpatory evidence, faked lab results, and just plain shoddy work performed by folks who are inadequately trained, biased in favor of the prosecution, or just trying to keep up with the caseload and missing things.
In the extreme we see this in instances such as the tragic Michael Morton case in which an innocent man spent decades in prison for a murder that he not only did not commit, but that the prosecution likely knew he did not commit. A less extreme consequence, but still quite horrifying, is the trust that is placed in the results of lab tests run by prosecution friendly technicians. In the case of Jonathan Salvador it appears that a combination of mistakes and outright faked results helped to convict hundreds (thousands?) of defendants. Many of these defendants are hardened criminals who belong in prison. Some were perhaps innocent and wrongly convicted. The injustice of the Salvador case cuts both ways. Innocent people who were convicted based on faked “evidence” may well get out of prison but will never get back the time they lost. On the other hand, some convictions that relied in part of Salvador’s fake lab results will be overturned even though the defendants are obviously guilty and would have been found guilty without ever having brought Salvador’s work into evidence.
When public officials lack integrity the stakes are high. One compromised lab tech is all it takes for the innocent to rot in prison and the guilty go free. Yet another reason why government should be limited, laws should be few, public officials should be subject to the highest scrutiny, and the cost to public officials who break faith with the people they serve should be high.