Criminal record

Earlier this year, officials with the Pennsylvania Office of Administration, the state agency that provides information technology services for most government departments, admitted that human error resulted in the deletion of thousands of records from state servers, including criminal records belonging to the Pennsylvania State Police’s forensic labs.

Why Were Thousands of Records Deleted?

A spokesperson for the Office of Administration acknowledged that on January 3, 2024, an employee performing routine server maintenance accidentally deleted data from two applications used by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) to manage and track physical and forensic evidence. The applications belonged to the Bureau of Forensic Services, which operates Pennsylvania’s forensic and DNA labs to process criminal evidence for the PSP and hundreds of local law enforcement agencies across Pennsylvania.

Officials asserted that the PSP notified district attorneys and local police chiefs about the data loss on January 11, with the PSP setting up a temporary system to accept and manage evidence submissions until state IT officials can restore full functionality to the affected programs. PSP officials stressed that the state police and Office of Administration restored much of the deleted data. However, they admitted that some files, including evidence logs, remained missing and might prove unrecoverable. Officials also noted that all physical evidence remained secure in forensic labs and storage facilities.

The incident also affected the account management system of the State Employee Retirement System, requiring users to reset their log-in information to access their pension benefits accounts.

Sources within the Office of Administration confirmed that the agency terminated at least one employee connected with the incident.

How Could an Error Like This Affect Your Case?

Many of the still-missing records affected by the server maintenance incident include evidence logs – the records used to track the chain of custody of a piece of evidence once it comes into law enforcement’s possession – for many recently investigated crimes. These evidence logs record the date, time, and place where law enforcement took in evidence, who handled the evidence, and where the evidence went for analysis.

The loss of the evidence log for forensic or physical evidence in a criminal case may give rise to challenges by a defendant or defense counsel regarding the reliability of the evidence. Without an evidence log establishing the chain of custody, defense attorneys could argue that practically anyone could have mishandled or tampered with evidence or that the evidence presented in court comes from an entirely different criminal case.

The association representing Pennsylvania’s district attorneys seemed to acknowledge this possibility, as it argued that the incident likely would have minimal effects on ongoing criminal cases. They claim that PSP forensic labs had internal, “old-fashioned” ways of tracking evidence and documenting the forensic testing performed on evidence.

Contact a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Today

The loss or destruction of evidence can profoundly affect your criminal case. Get a criminal defense lawyer to evaluate how this incident could influence the credibility of evidence in your case. Contact The Zeiger Firm today for a confidential consultation to learn more about your legal rights and options.

Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.