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Court overturns Nassau crime-lab defense

Erin Marino stands outside a Mineola courtroom at

Erin Marino stands outside a Mineola courtroom at her DWI vehicular assault case. (Feb. 17, 2011) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

A judge's 2011 decision to toss out a drunken driving conviction because of problems at the Nassau County Crime Lab was overturned by an appellate court Wednesday, diminishing the chances that other convictions will be thrown out on similar grounds.

Defendant Erin Marino, 31, of Hicksville, will return to Nassau Court to be sentenced in her original case.

"The defendant failed to meet her burden of establishing that new evidence cast doubt on the accuracy of the results of her blood alcohol testing such that the result would probably be different at a retrial," the decision said.

The decision is a huge victory for prosecutors, who fought hard to show that Marino's conviction, and others like it, were based upon sound legal evidence, despite the lab's problems. The decision said mistakes in unrelated cases made by the lab technician who handled Marino's blood, and the lab's failure to calibrate a key piece of blood-testing equipment on schedule, did not raise questions about Marino's guilt.

"This decision confirms my office's argument that the protocol violations that led to the closure of the Nassau County Police Department crime lab would have cast no doubt on the accuracy of Marino's blood-alcohol test result or altered the verdict, which was based on overwhelming proof of guilt," said District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

Marino was convicted in 2010 of aggravated vehicular assault for slamming into a minivan while driving drunk on June 25, 2009, on Route 106 in Glen Cove.

Her attorney, Brian Griffin of Garden City, sued later that year to overturn the conviction -- days after the police crime lab was put on probation by a national lab-accreditation agency that cited 26 violations.

Then, in February 2011, Rice and County Executive Edward Mangano closed the lab after revelations that supervisors may have failed to disclose inaccurate testing.

Nassau Judge George Peck tossed out Marino's conviction about a month later, saying he might have ruled differently in the nonjury trial had he known about the problems at the lab. At the time, Peck's decision made headlines, with many legal experts hailing it as the first of many drunken driving convictions that would be tossed out because of lab problems.

Griffin said he will appeal the case to the state's highest court.

"We believe that if the evidence regarding the deficiencies at the crime lab had been made known to the defense before trial, Ms. Marino would have been found not guilty," he said.

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