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Evidence vault hit by explosion, cases hang in the balance

An interesting story from up the coast has caught the eye of many in the criminal defense world. An evidence vault at a Washington D.C. police station was the site of an explosion that "significantly" damaged 150 packets of evidence out of the 52,000 that were there. Officials still aren't sure at this time what caused the explosion, but an investigation has been launched. One person was injured in the explosion. Officials are coordinating with prosecutors to determine if cases have been undermined as a result of the lost evidence.

This story brings up a lot of questions. The first is what constitutes "significant" damage? Does it mean the evidence was completely ruined beyond recognition or analysis? If so, will the cases tied to that evidence be thrown out?

Going a bit further on that point, what about the packets of evidence that were damaged, but not "significantly"? Is that evidence still good? Criminal defense attorneys involved in those cases will have a strong case to make that the evidence tied to their client has been affected, tainted or otherwise ruined in some fashion.

And lastly, this story speaks to the overall safety, security and trust we have in police evidence lockers and vaults. We all like to believe that all evidence is hermetically sealed and completely protected from outside influences. But crazy things can happen. Corrupt officials can taint evidence -- even unwitting lab technicians can ruin evidence. Every case needs to be fully investigated, and every accused person needs a criminal defense attorney to do so.

Source: Washington Post, "Explosion in vault had minimal effect on drug evidence, D.C. police say," Peter Hermann, Feb. 2, 2017

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