Administrative reliability and the “Rampart” scandal:
DNA evidence is highly influential – and the results of a DNA test can sometimes become highly prejudicial regarding the innocence or guilt of the accused. DNA testing may be able to determine the genetic blueprint of a particular individual to a high degree of accuracy, but DNA testing is also susceptible to abuse. Like many other forms of evidence obtained, analyzed and ultimately presented at trial, the accuracy of the evidence depends in large part on the reliability of the persons who are physically in contact with and are responsible for the administration of the evidence (such as the investigators at a crime scene who collect evidentiary samples, the persons who have access to the police evidence lockers and the forensics specialists who subsequently analyze the materials). However, police officers and forensics specialists can make mistakes and behave unprofessionally – and at worst, they can be incompetent or even corrupt. In 2002, the City Council of Los Angeles agreed to pay in settlement negotiations $300,000 to Jorge Sisco-Aguilar, who claimed that the police had framed him “for illegal firearms possession and cocaine possession." This was one of numerous settlements which arose from the Los Angeles Police Department’s “Rampart” scandal, where officers stole materials from police evidence lockers, planted evidence such as drugs and weapons on innocent persons, and wrote false police reports (Id). As a result of investigations arising out of the Rampart scandal, “over a hundred convictions were overturned” and the police officers involved “were indicted on corruption charges, including torture, murder, drug dealing, and framing innocent people (Id). The unit’s criminal behavior became known as the ‘Rampart Way,’ a term referring to a predominantly poor, immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles patrolled – and during that time controlled – by the officers” (Id).
While the extent of the Rampart police unit’s malfeasance may not be typical of police departments throughout the United States the danger of placing too much faith in the reliability of the persons in positions of authority is evident. This situation becomes more problematic when we recognize that the individuals targeted for prosecution are also often indigent and they may not have the resources both financially and socially to effectively combat these injustices.