Office of the Attorney General Issues Statement on Possible RIDOH Lab Contamination Event
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – On March 14, 2023, the Department of Health (DOH) notified our Office of a possible contamination event at their Forensic Chemistry Lab which potentially affected the results of a number of tests on drug exhibits, utilized in cases prosecuted by our Office, specifically affecting cocaine detections.
Upon learning of the issue, our Office acted immediately to further understand the nature of the possible contamination and the scope of the issue, and has worked expeditiously to identify criminal cases that might have been impacted. It is our understanding, based on information provided by the Rhode Island Forensic Laboratory, that this event concerned drug exhibits tested by one particular laboratory scientist which may have yielded false positive results for cocaine. At this juncture, the Lab has identified 52 lab cases that are potentially impacted by this event. There are an additional 263 cases that are pending review. The Lab has represented to us that, based on the information they currently have, they do not believe drug exhibits tested by other laboratory scientists, or that drug exhibits where cocaine is not indicated were impacted.
As a result of the notice we received from the Lab, we have requested that all affected exhibits be retested. We also understand that the Lab will expedite the retesting of exhibits.
At present, our Office is working to ensure that every impacted case is identified; notice is sent to defense counsel representing defendants; notice is sent to police departments; and the implementation of a plan to quickly address any question regarding the reliability of the drug testing in question. That process has been time consuming as the list of cases sent to us by the lab does not include corresponding court case numbers. We have been working to identify all pending and disposed cases as well as cases where the defendant may be held or serving a sentence at the ACI. At this juncture, it does not appear that any defendant is held solely based on charges involving cocaine.
We have also reached out to and briefed the Public Defender, the presiding and acting presiding justice of the Superior Court, the presiding justice of the District Court, the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association, and the Rhode Island State Police.
Following our initial action, we will continue our work to evaluate the scope and impact of this issue, and expeditiously work with stakeholders to ensure that no individual’s rights have been violated.
Additional questions concerning specific details of the possible contamination should be directed to the RIDOH.