People in Virginia facing criminal charges or investigations may contend with overzealous police investigators who exceed the terms of their search warrants or attempt to badger suspects into a dubious confession. In one California wrongful death case, a widow is suing police after her husband committed suicide while under investigation for a murder committed in 1984. During the trial, a retired detective admitted that some of the evidence retained by the police in the investigation had no connection to the search warrant or probative value in the case, including boxes of personal photos and family items.
The widow’s husband was a former employee at his city’s crime lab where he investigated murders and other crimes with forensic evidence. Years after the 1984 case, traces of her husband’s sperm were allegedly found on a vaginal swab connected to the murder due to improved DNA technology. The trace evidence was not detected at the time of the original homicide investigation. While this may seem to be damning evidence against the former lab worker, the lab itself previously used sperm samples from its employees, including the late husband, as control samples in various DNA tests. This means that there was a high potential of cross-contamination, especially given the looser protocols around handling of DNA evidence in previous years.
The widow said that one of the factors in her husband’s despair and suicide was the failure of the police to return seized items that had no connection to the murder investigation, including family photos, books and other records. Police also dismissed the possibility of cross-contamination, despite scientific evidence that contamination was a concern with DNA testing.
A criminal investigation can change a person’s life for the worse. People facing police questioning may work with a criminal defense attorney to protect their rights and challenge police misconduct.