A lab technician for the State Police allegedly faked results in a drug case, and has drawn into question 7,827 criminal cases on which he worked, according to state officials.
Kamalkant Shah worked as a laboratory technician for the State Police laboratory in Little Falls and was found to have "dry labbed" suspected marijuana, according to a Feb. 29 memo to Public Defender Joseph Krakora from Deputy Public Defender Judy Fallon. Shah's essentially accused of making up data.
"Basically, he was observed writing 'test results' for suspected marijuana that was never tested," Fallon said in the memo.
The memo was released Tuesday on the New Jersey Municipal Court Law Update Service's website.
Shah was removed from lab work on Dec. 10 as soon as the problem was discovered, said Peter Aseltine, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General. Shah, who received a salary of $101,039, was suspended without pay effective Jan 12, he said.
Shah has not been charged with any crime, and is believed to have retired, Aseltine said.
Ellie Honig, director of the Division of Criminal Justice, said in Feb. 22 letter to county prosecutor's offices that Shah "failed to appropriately conduct laboratory analyses in a drug case." The letter advised prosecutors to disclose this information to defense counsel. The Attorney General's Office released a copy of the letter to NJ Advance Media Wednesday afternoon.
"Mr. Shah was observed in one case spending insufficient time analyzing a substance to determine if it was marijuana and recording an anticipated result without properly conducting the analysis," Honig said.
Aseltine told NJ Advance Media Wednesday there was only one instance in which Shah was observed improperly conducting a test.
"However, in an abundance of caution, we have identified every case that Shah worked on since he began working in the North Regional Lab Drug Unit in 2005, and we have notified the county prosecutors, advising them to alert defense attorneys in those cases," he said. "There are a total of 7,827 cases statewide, with the largest numbers being in Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic counties."
It's unclear what impact the disclosure will have on thousands of drugs convictions, but several attorneys who deal with criminal matters said Wednesday that it wouldn't likely affect the large number of defendants who pleaded guilty to drug possession.
About 1,200 municipal workers, deemed non-essential, were told to stay home Tuesday.
According to Fallon's memo, all of Shah's results have been called into question from his 10-year stint at the Little Falls lab. The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office has not yet "formulated a policy or protocol" to deal with these cases, and is still in the process of identifying cases potentially implicated by Shah's alleged conduct, per the memo.
"In Passaic County alone, the universe of cases possibly implicated in this conduct is 2,100," Fallon said in the memo.
Shah's Linkedin profile says he's worked as a forensic scientist for the past 27 years at various state agencies including the New Jersey State Police's Office of Forensic Science. He worked at the State Police's equine testing laboratory in East Rutherford from Oct. 1989 to March 2005 before heading to the Little Falls lab in April 2005, per his Linkedin profile.
The prosecutor's office's plan, Fallon said, "is to submit for retesting specimens from open cases. The larger, and unanswered, question is how this impacts already resolved cases, especially those where the specimens may have been destroyed."
Aseltine said the State Police are working with prosecutors to address any potential issues in connection with Shah's cases.
Kevin Walker, an assistant public defender, issued a statement on behalf of the Public Defender's Office Wednesday saying the office does not have "a practical mechanism for identifying all the cases involving" Shah.
"The prosecuting attorneys are going to have to do that, by reviewing the records from the Little Falls lab and cross-referencing them with their files," he said. "We assume the prosecutors will do that promptly. Pending that review, we are going to keep all our options on the table, including filing motions to vacate convictions in appropriate cases."