Over the weekend, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement made a troubling announcement that could throw thousands of criminal drug cases into question. According to the department, a rogue chemist working at a crime lab in the Panhandle stole pain pills in large quantities from the Pensacola Regional Crime Laboratory.
The facility handled cases from all across Florida, including South Florida. Right now, the department is trying to figure out how many investigations were tainted.
"This has the potential for impacting hundreds of drug cases around our state," FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey told the Orlando Sentinel. "The impact is going to be significant."
The department has not named the chemist, but he or she has been suspended from duty (with pay) and is currently the subject of a criminal investigation. We're not talking about a couple of pain pills pocketed here or there. According to Bailey, the individual was pulling large qualities out of the lab and replacing them with over-the-counter products.
Since 2006, the chemist worked about 2,600 drug cases for 80 law enforcement agencies. Investigators haven't been too forthcoming about which jurisdictions may have been impacted.
The scheme was revealed when Escambia County law enforcement officials noticed there were pills missing from an evidence locker. The chemist is expected to be hit with criminal charges soon.
How much of an impact could this have on cases statewide? Huge. Just about every defendant in a drug case that passed through this chemist's lab will likely be filing new motions for retrial based on the news.
Last November, a former Massachusetts law enforcement chemist was handed a three-year sentence on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury, and tampering with evidence. She was found to have actually tested only a fraction of her workload in order to boost her productivity numbers. But the state courts are still being flooded with appeals related to her work.
Considering the number of pain pill cases that have clocked through the Florida criminal justice system in the past decade, you can expect that a similar logjam is about to hit our courts.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.