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Friday, April 20, 2012

Conviction Is Upset Over Police Drug Lab Failings

Conviction Is Upset Over Drug Lab Woes
The New York Law Journal by Andrew Keshner - April 20, 2012

A Queens man who challenged his drug possession conviction has had his guilty verdict set aside due to shortcomings at the Nassau County Police Department's crime lab. A jury found Khurram Shahzad guilty in 2010 on charges including fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a C felony with an eight-year maximum sentence. Police officers allegedly discovered cocaine in Shahzad's car during a 2007 traffic stop. Shahzad, who had others in the car at the time, denied knowledge of the drugs. Shahzad moved in September 2011 to set aside his conviction based on newly discovered evidence of deficiencies at the lab. In December, Nassau County Court Judge Tammy Robbins granted a hearing on his motion. The hearing was scheduled to start later this month, but on April 18 Nassau County prosecutors consented to Shahzad's motion to set aside the convictions. But the prosecution did not concede to the conclusions of fact or law contended by Shahzad, who has been incarcerated at Nassau County Correctional Facility for nearly two years. Shahzad's sole remaining conviction is third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, an unclassified misdemeanor. In a statement, a spokesman for the Nassau County D.A. said, "This hearing, without yet calling even one witness, has already lasted longer than the original trial. Given the breadth of the hearing, the extensive resources already dedicated to this case, and the fact that the defendant has been incarcerated for more than 500 days, this plea agreement disposes of this case fairly without additional cost to the taxpayers." Shahzad was represented in his post-verdict challenge by Brian Griffin of Foley Griffin in Garden City and Scott Gross of Hauppauge. "The motion was granted by consent and there was overwhelming evidence the conviction shouldn't have occurred in the first place," Griffin said. The Nassau County Police Department's crime lab has been closed since early last year. The lab was "plagued with significant and pervasive problems" reflecting a failure of oversight at both state and local levels, according to a report last fall from the New York State Inspector General.

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