Monday, December 03, 2012

Bullshit Files: The Bureaucratic Tangle

In a scenario that could have been straight out of Catch-22, I am currently involved in a matter that perplexes the fuck out of me.

Here's the situation in a nutshell.

The police had evidence in a criminal complaint that they didn't have funding for to have DNA testing. They couldn't have the Client, who was willing, pay for the testing so due to lack of leads case closed and evidence released back to Client to pursue private testing. Laboratory won't accept evidence for testing unless submitted by police. But the police have closed file...

See the problem?

The longer version is that a Client had been burgled some time ago to which the local police attended. Several items were removed by the police as possible evidence - a cigarette butt and a sweatshirt. The butt was located inside the burgled premises, the sweatshirt was draped over the external barbed wire fence.

Well, that was almost a year ago. What happened is that there was only enough funding for one item to be screened for DNA and it was decided that the cigarette was most likely to yield a result. But it took around six months before the item was submitted for testing.

And a match was forthcoming, but the individual concerned could not be discounted as having been there legitimately prior to the burglary (even though the police made no further enquiries or interviewed the individual) so the file was then closed.

Now, the Client has always stated that they were willing to pay for the DNA screening in order to expedite matters. The police declined this offer previously because the monies would have gone into a government consolidated fund rather back to them directly. Now that they were done with the case, however, the police were willing to release the untested evidence so that the Client could pursue this matter privately.

Why is the Client so keen on taking this further, you might be asking? Well, they have two suspects in mind (former employees) who are currently taking them through civil proceedings and a criminal conviction would wrap that matter up nicely.

So what's the problem now?

The lab that does the testing won't, at this stage, accept the evidence for private screening. The idea that a private client, not the police, would submit evidence for testing in a criminal matter is new to them and they are not sure how to proceed.

Here are their concerns:

  • Chain of custody (the evidence has been in my custody ever since having uplifted it from police)
  • How the evidence was obtained (the item is still in the sealed police evidence bag from the day it was obtained from scene of crime)
  • Better for police to submit for testing (but the file is closed and they don't have funding for further testing in this case)
  • Cannot disclose results of any matches in the DNA database to me or Client
The last part really is probably the crux of the whole situation. If there is a positive match on the DNA databank, the results cannot be disclosed to us because of privacy laws. However, that shouldn't be an issue as we've stated that we want those results to be provided to the police so the file can be reopened for further investigation. They don't need to be disclosed to us at all.

So the lab is currently mulling this over and I await their decision. This also will have further ramifications in the future when it comes to the matter of how to process evidence where the police have finished their involvement, or have yet to be involved, in a case.

Meanwhile, the piece of evidence in question remains in my custody.

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