Special Investigator Appointed To Investigate The

Nassau County Crime Lab

Drug Prosecutions and DWI Prosecutions Under Question

            Even though it has been only one week since the Nassau County Crime Lab was closed by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, the New York State Governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, has already appointed State Inspector General Ellen Biben to investigate the lab. Initially, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice tried to have Eric Dinallo, Esq., appointed special prosecutor to investigate the lab, but the proposed appointment was rejected by acting Supreme Court Justice William Donnino.

            Eric Dinallo is a partner in the Manhattan law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton, L.L.P., and was a Democratic runner last fall for Attorney General. Rice who had sought to appoint Dinallo, was disappointed earlier this week when Judge William Donnino, the supervising judge of the county court in Nassau, denied her request. Before deciding on the appointment, Judge Donnino pointed out that state law requires a special prosecutor to live in the county where he or she will serve or have an office in an adjoining county. Dinallo conveniently had obtained an office in Nassau County at RXR Plaza in Uniondale on Tuesday morning, the day before Rice requested that the Manhattan attorney be appointed special investigator of the crime lab.  Clearly, the office was set-up for the sole purpose of attempting to comply with the state law cited by the Supreme Court justice. Judge Donnino pointed out that in open-ended cases such as this, where the investigation could lead to criminal arrests, it is the governor’s office that should appoint a special prosecutor or special investigator, thus superseding the district attorney’s choice. However, it is not surprising that District Attorney Rice attempted to take it upon herself to name the special investigator with all that is on the line.  If the special investigator determines that any wrongdoings took place in the lab, it could lead to thousands of prosecutions handled under Rice’s administration being challenged and possibly overturned.

            Rice was quoted as saying, “We will continue to make sure this case receives the most fair and aggressive examination possible and this decision will not deter that effort.” She further stated, “We are moving quickly to ask the governor to appoint a special prosecutor so we can begin the process of restoring the faith that the public deserves to have in its criminal justice system.” At least implicitly in her statement, Rice acknowledges that the public has lost faith, to some extent, in the criminal justice system in Nassau County. How damaged the public’s faith in the criminal justice system is has yet to be determined, particularly in light of the police department lab being closed and its employees and supervisors currently under investigation.

            Following Judge Donnino’s rejection of Rice’s proposed appointment, Inspector General Ellen Biben was appointed by Governor Cuomo to investigate the Nassau County Crime Lab. Both the Nassau County Executive and the District Attorney’s office subsequently expressed approval of the governor’s “swift action” in the appointment. What choice did they really have, for Rice anything but approval would look like she was trying to hide something, especially after her own hand picked selection was denied.

The Nassau Count Crime Lab will now be investigated for known and suspected mistakes in lab analysis of evidence in both drug and alcohol related cases. Just who knew what, and when they knew it, is going to be one of the focuses of the investigation. Hundred is not thousands of Driving While Intoxicated and drug convictions could be affected by the results of the investigation.

            As for Ms. Biben, her credentials speak for themselves, as outlined below:

  • Named Inspector General on January 1, 2011 by Governor Guomo.
  • Served as Deputy Attorney General for Public Integrity.
  • Lead prosecutor against political consultant Hank Morris.
  • Served ten years as an Assistant Manhattan District Attorney.
  • Deputy Bureau Chief of the Rackets Bureau for five years while in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

It is uncertain at this point what will be discovered during the investigation.  It will be interesting to see if criminal charges will be filed against any Nassau County police officers or supervisors in connection with the lab issues. The investigation should also reveal when the District Attorney’s Office learned about the problems at the lab and if they disclosed their knowledge in the appropriate amount of time.

At the Law Office of David Galison, P.C., we strive to ensure that your rights are protected. If you are charged with the possession or sale of any drug, or are charged with any alcohol related driving offense in Nassau, Suffolk or Queens County, contact the Law Office of David Galison, P.C. at 516-242-4477 to schedule a FREE CONSULTATION to discuss your case. Visit our website at: David Galison, P.C.