Redding defense attorney Jeffrey Stotter said he has at least one client who might be sitting in prison after an inaccurate drug test.
Patricia Griffith, is serving 10 years in prison for a vehicular manslaughter conviction that involved the use of alcohol—and a blood sample drawn by lab owner George Goehring.
Griffith and other defendants had a right to know the man who drew blood samples for suspected drunken drivers and drug users was the focus of a four-year investigation, Stotter said.
He said Shasta County District Attorney McGregor Scott should have shared that information with defense attorneys.
“A jury gets to decide whether there’s anything to it. The district attorney doesn’t,” Stotter said.
The state attorney general’s office has been investigating Goehring, 62, of Redding, since a 1998 inquiry at Scott’s request.
Scott said he learned last week that Goehring remained under investigation although preliminary reports he received in 1998 showed no wrongdoing. Based on reports he received last week, he ordered an in-house review of all cases handled by Goehring’s lab since Jan. 1, 1998. That includes any case where Goehring did work, tested or drew blood, Scott said.
“This is all precautionary,” he said, stressing there is no evidence that Goehring’s tests wrongly convicted defendants.
Since Friday, Assistant District Attorney Greg Gaul and Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Welch have spent several hours a day sorting through cases, Scott said.
Felony cases and defendants serving time take priority, Scott said. Two prosecutors are taking an inventory.
“We’re doing our homework,” he said.
Several hundred blood and urine samples still exist, but the Department of Justice will test each only if that particular case warrants it, Scott said.
He does not foresee all the samples being retested, he said.
For example, a hypothetical case of a defendant charged with car theft and being under the influence of drugs would probably not be re-examined if the defendant pleaded guilty only to the car theft charge, Scott said.
His office hasn’t made a final decision on how carefully prosecutors will review cases where Goehring only drew blood, but didn’t test it, Scott said.
“We’re better off right now devoting our time to cases where there was an actual test,” he said.
At that time, Shasta County coroner’s office employees said Goehring’s test results differed from an Oakland lab’s tests of the same samples.
Goehring sold his business, Goehring Forensic Laboratory, in July, but had tested drugs for law enforcement agencies since 1986. Goehring’s findings became evidence in court cases the district attorney said he is now reviewing, dating back four years.
Goehring said he and his lab were licensed by the state, contrary to what Scott had said previously, citing statements in a Department of Justice report. Goehring said he has been a licensed clinical lab scientist since the early 1960s.
Scott also said in a letter sent to defense attorneys this week that he will make available investigative reports by the Department of Justice and Redding Police Department.
Three Redding attorneys requested those documents Tuesday, Scott said.
Stotter said he gained court orders for the district attorney to share the findings of the reports, which allegedly incriminate Goehring.
“My take is that for four years, the district attorney’s office has known about this, and they chose to do nothing. The reports were buried,” he said.
A Shasta County jury found Stotter’s client, Griffith, guilty on March 23 for driving drunk March 26, 1999, and killing 11-year-old Redding boy Pa Choy Saechao. Griffith was sentenced to 10 years.
During her trial, the prosecution’s drug test—taken by Goehring about two hours after the collision—showed Griffith’s blood alcohol level at 0.07, Stotter said. The defense’s test of the same sample by a different lab showed a level of 0.009, Stotter said.
“The jury apparently gave more weight to the government’s test. And you can understand why. We’d all like to think that the government is fair and just and honest, and most of the time I think it is. But there is a link in this chain that is made of cardboard. And they hid it from us,” Stotter said.
In a letter sent late last week, Redding defense attorney James Wilson told Scott he will no longer agree to the truth of drug test result evidence, based on the prior use of Goehring’s results in criminal cases.
He is irate over Scott’s actions, he said.
“He needs to resign his office. That guy needs to go. And I will be satisfied with nothing less,” Wilson said.