Lab ordered to turn over list of cases handled by analyst under investigation

A Riverside County judge ordered a forensics laboratory on Wednesday to disclose a list of more than 3,700 Riverside County criminal cases that were handled by a lab analyst whose work is the subject of a multistate investigation.

In an Indio courtroom, Judge Jorge C. Hernandez ordered Riverside-based Bio-Tox Laboratories to turn over a list of criminal defendants and cases whose evidence was handled by the lab analyst, Aaron Layton, 30.

Layton was fired from the lab in February after Riverside County prosecutors found records of a 2003 polygraph test in which Layton admitted he had improperly conducted similar work at a lab in Colorado, and lied about it “hundreds of times.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, the judge also ordered Bio-Tox to turn over a list of which of Layton’s cases have been retested, as well as Layton’s personnel employment file and the schedule of other lab technicians at the office.

See also:  8,000 Inland criminal cases in question in light of probe of former Riverside lab tech

Everything must be submitted by April 30.

At both the Colorado and California forensics labs, Layton tested blood and urine samples for law enforcement agencies. According to the polygraph records, which have been submitted into evidence in Riverside County Superior Court, Layton never conducted confirmation tests on samples while working in Colorado in 2001 and 2002, but he forged documents and lied in court to make it appear he had.

“The argument is that after all the lying, forgery and perjury, those issues put everything Aaron Layton touched into question,” Hernandez said in court Wednesday.

Layton has not returned repeated calls seeking comment.

Since Layton’s background was uncovered by the Riverside County district attorney’s office in December, officials have also identified 4,500 cases in San Bernardino County that Layton worked on, in addition to the more than 3,700 Riverside County cases. He was also involved in an unknown number of cases in San Diego County and Colorado.

Bio-Tox officials said they have retested more than 500 Riverside County cases, and all have been consistent with the original test results.

“We’re complying with the court’s request and look forward to proving there was no misconduct at Bio-Tox,” said Business Manager Tracey Stangarone.

However, the Riverside County public defender’s office has said that testing in two drunken driving cases have come back with different levels of alcohol than originally measured.

ONLY RIVERSIDE COUNTY

The public defender’s office requested a complete list of names related to samples Layton worked on, but on Wednesday the judge restricted it to Riverside County criminal cases.

Hernandez excluded family law cases and civil cases, as well as criminal cases in San Bernardino and San Diego counties. Those cases have not been retested.

Hernandez said defense attorneys must show evidence of inconsistencies and impropriety in Layton’s work before he will order Bio-Tox to compile a list of cases in other counties.

“I don’t see any attempts by Bio-Tox to hide behind any information. I don’t want to be overreaching and going on a fishing expedition,” Hernandez said. “I’m going to put the defense on notice to show a statistical anomaly for further information.”

The judge’s order Wednesday ends a three-month stalemate between Bio-Tox, the Riverside County district attorney’s office and the Riverside County public defender’s office, which was seeking the information.

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Kelli Catlett said the district attorney’s office has already turned over a list of some 2,000 cases to the public defender’s office that Layton worked on and continues to send notifications as cases are discovered.

The district attorney’s office and other judges have said the public defender’s office should conduct its own investigation into which cases Layton was involved in by obtaining information from Bio-Tox.

The public defender’s office argued that it cannot rely on the district attorney’s word about what cases were affected and retesting results.

Bio-Tox officials had previously resisted releasing the information, citing concerns for the privacy of the company’s clients.

EXAMINING CREDIBILITY

Hernandez said in court Wednesday that because Layton is “an admitted liar and perjurer … Bio-Tox is now taking steps to recheck his work.”

At the same time, he said, defense attorneys are going to look for any indication that Layton’s work may have led to an improper conviction. Defense attorneys, as well as prosecutors across Southern California and Colorado, are being notified about the investigations into Layton.

Layton’s work could warrant such attention based on his background and the potential ramifications it could have on cases, said Jean Rosenbluth, a law professor for USC.

Rosenbluth said when deliberating about an order such as the one Hernandez made Wednesday, a judge will stop attorneys from making overly broad requests for information.

“A defendant has the right to test the credibility of witnesses and their work against him,” Rosenbluth said. “If the witness has a background of not being careful and being sloppy, cross-examining that credibility is a truth-seeking measure. … It’s important to look at what he’s done here.”

Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or jasbury@PE.com

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