The Perverse Incentive Structure of Missouri’s Conviction-based Drug Testing Compensation Law RsMO 195.003

Missouri law mandates that individuals convicted of a violation of Missouri’s Controlled Substances Act are required to pay the costs of the crime lab test. In practice this implies that the only stable source of funding for a crime lab are test results that help a prosecutor obtain a conviction. As RsMO 195.003 states:

In any case where there is a violation of this chapter, a judge may, upon a finding of guilt*, order a defendant to pay for costs for testing of the substance or substances at a private laboratory.

Further, RsMO 488.029 establishes that part of these costs is a $150 surcharge that is only garnered by the crime lab in case of a conviction:

There shall be assessed and collected a surcharge of one hundred fifty dollars in all criminal cases for any violation of chapter 195 in which a crime laboratory makes analysis of a controlled substance, but no such surcharge shall be assessed when the costs are waived or are to be paid by the state or when a criminal proceeding or the defendant has been dismissed by the court. The moneys collected by clerks of the courts pursuant to the provisions of this section shall be collected and disbursed as provided by sections 488.010* to 488.020. All such moneys shall be payable to the director of revenue, who shall deposit all amounts collected pursuant to this section to the credit of the state forensic laboratory account to be administered by the department of public safety pursuant to section 650.105.

Roger Koppl and Meghan Sacks discuss the incentive structures of forensic scientists in a 2012 paper:

Whitman and Koppl point out that “the very choice to submit a suspect’s sample to the lab makes the lab more inclined (than it would be otherwise) to announce a match, indicating that the suspect is guilty.”  The forensic scientist must evaluate ambiguous evidence, but give, generally, a binary judgment that the evidence does or does not match.  (The explain why the probabilities given in DNA testimony are not usually an exception to this binary nature of forensic-science testimony.)  In this situation, even the most “rational” scientist must choose what to say.  The choice will usually be influenced by scientific analysis done in the crime lab. But if the evidence is ambiguous, as it often is, then two other factors matter even for perfectly “rational” forensic scientists.  The scientist is more likely to inculpate the defendant 1) the higher the forensic scientist’s “prior” probability of guilt, which is the probability before the forensic evidence is examined, and 2) the weaker is the scientist’s desire is to avoid convicting the innocent relative to his or her desire to convict the guilty.

Indeed, these biases when compounded by a financial incentive to assist in conviction imply that no Missouri drug defendant has a fair chance at an unbiased evidentiary process involving a crime lab. It’s time for the Missouri Legislature to protect the rights of citizens to a fair trial by reforming this system by ending the conviction-based revenue collection of crime labs.

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