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Sandy destroyed evidence, concern for pending cases

January 2, 2013 2:39:05 PM PST
Superstorm Sandy is having an unexpected impact on pending court cases.

Specially stored DNA information, guns and cars all held as evidence was destroyed by the rising waters.

The evidence was housed in two large warehouses and unprotected against the surge.

It could mean criminal cases tossed out and wrongful convictions. The NYPD isn't saying much about the extent of the damage to evidence.

But when you see the location of one of the warehouses, you wonder what they were thinking.

Surrounded by water, the NYPD evidence warehouse in Red Hook Brooklyn had no chance of escaping the Superstorm.

What little preparation was taken to protect the facility proved no match for Sandy's surge, same for this evidence warehouse in Greenpoint.

Reportedly thousands of barrels of stored DNA evidence, as well as guns, and drugs at both facilities came in contact with sewage contaminated flood waters.

"From a societal stand point this is highly problematic," said David Schwartz, Fmr. Assistant Brooklyn D.A.

Former Brooklyn District Prosecutor, David Schwartz says the impact of this could be tremendous.

"You will have a significant number of cases where that evidence will have an effect on the trial, prosecution will argue case should go on its immaterial, the defense will argue that evidence was very material and could prove my client is not guilty," Schwartz said.

Already, it's reported the courts are feeling the impact with police testifying that evidence in some cases was "inaccessible".

Some attorneys for the poor fear the damage will result in wrongful convictions.

"New Yorkers are often accused of crimes wrongfully and they are entitled to have opportunity to prove their defense and if evidence is lost, they can't," said Steven Banks, of the Legal Aid Society.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office would not say whether the NYPD has briefed them on the damage, but in a statement to Eyewitness News a spokesman said, "We will continue to notify attorneys as soon as we learn that vouchered evidence has been stored in one of the two damaged facilities and will continue to examine the issue on a case by case basis."

Meanwhile, the impact of the damaged evidence could be felt in the courts for years.

"There could be motions brought after convictions later on that says that lost evidence could have exonerated the criminal defendant and therefore the entire case could be dismissed. You'll be seeing these motions for years to come," Schwartz said.

The NYPD has confirmed that there have been six instances so far where the court was told that evidence for a pending case existed but was unavailable because of the two sites closed because of contamination.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne telling us in a statement that a lot of the evidence has already been tested for D-N-A and those samples are preserved by the Medical Examiner.

However, Browne states, "Its unknown how much evidence will end up being lost entirely, but it's expected to be considerable."

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