On December 12, Nika Larsen, former employee of an Oregon State Police crime lab, was sentenced to three years in prison and 250 hours of subsequent community service after being convicted of stealing hundreds of prescription pills and controlled substances that had been submitted as evidence to the lab where she worked.
Larsen said that she hopes her conviction will not affect the reputation of the Oregon crime lab system, and Billy J. Williams, United States Attorney for the District of Oregon, said “Ms. Larsen's sentence reflects the severity of her crimes, and demonstrates our law enforcement community's commitment to policing its own and protecting the integrity of the justice system.”
The Oregon police first launched an investigation last year when a forensic scientist noticed that 18 oxycodone pills were missing. They found many missing pills in addition to pills that had been replaced with uncontrolled substances, all from cases that Larsen was in charge of.
According to The Oregonian, the investigation eventually concluded that Larsen had stolen “over 700 pills had been stolen from 50 different evidence samples, including morphine, hydrocodone, diazepam, methamphetamine, oxycodone and methadone.” She went undetected for over two full years because law enforcement rarely goes back to check evidence after initial consultation with a crime lab.
36 year old Larsen pleaded guilty to both counts of obtaining a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud and deception. According to court documents, Larsen was struggling with severe alcohol and pill addiction in the year that led up to her arrest. She also cooperated with authorities by walking investigators through the lab and explaining how she was able to steal the substances and submitted to two polygraph (lie detector) tests. She was one of the lab's most respected scientists and handled more cases than almost any other employee there.
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel wrote to the court that Larsen had abused her power and trust "on a massive scale unprecedented in Oregon history.” Not only did her abuse of power compromise her own credibility, the case has called 2,500 drug convictions around the state that were handled by Larsen into question.
District attorneys around the state have already dropped or dismissed over 150 drug charges since November of 2014 due to the criminal investigation surrounding Larsen. Prosecutors are reviewing previous convictions and, in some cases, have already dismissed convictions of defendants who have plead guilty to drug charges.
There are many ways to defend a drug charge or convince the court to drop the charge altogether. A skilled lawyer can choose a defense that will work in your favor from a variety of options. Sometimes criminal defense attorneys will argue that the drugs were obtained through unlawful search and seizure, or that the drugs belong to someone else. Alternatively, they could ask the prosecutor to produce the drugs in question or to produce the crime lab report which explicitly certifies that the drugs were in fact controlled substances.
If you are facing drug charges, call the Law Offices of Steve Karimi today at (206) 621-8777 to schedule a free and confidential case consultation or contact him online.