The Delaware State Police’s primary firearms expert, Carl Rone, has been suspended and will not be called as a witness in court until further notice. Attorneys are concerned about the effect of this suspension of current and past cases.
Firearms Expert Carl Rone
Carl Rone is the primary firearms examiner for the Delaware State Police in its Forensic Firearms Service Unit. This department assists all Delaware law enforcement entities with its investigations. Rone began this work in late 2006 Rone retired from the Philadelphia Police Department in 2007.
Rone’s role has included serving as a witness in court for state prosecutors, providing analysis such as matching casings with firearms, mapping bullet trajectory, and interpreting gunpowder residue at crime scenes.
State Prosecutor Sean P. Lugg of the Delaware Department of Justice announced Rone’s suspension in a letter to defense attorneys that also indicated that Rone would not be called as a witness “until further notice.”
Sergeant Richard Bratz, spokesperson for the state police, stated that the suspension was a “personnel matter pending to determine if there was any violations of our policies.” Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Magnusson released a statement saying that, “Presently, DOJ has no additional information concerning this Delaware State Police personnel matter. . . . For this reason, the impact of the suspension is not currently known, but no verdicts or pleas have been overturned or abandoned at this point.” Of course, keeping the reason for the suspension secret would seriously hamper the ability to challenge verdicts or pleas that were based on Rone’s opinions.
Chief public defender Brendan O’Neill released a statement saying that “We do not know the details or reason for the suspension, but we do have concerns about the impact this may have on pending and past litigation.” If Rone’s suspension is unrelated to his work on past cases, it would likely only cause a delay in pending trials. However; if Rone’s suspension calls his processing or interpretation of evidence into question, it could also have a serious impact on past cases that have involved Rone.
The Delaware criminal justice community is especially concerned with the way Rone’s suspension could affect cases after a drug lab scandal had widespread impact on cases a few years ago.
Drug Lab Scandal
In January 2014, a Delaware State Police trooper opened up a sealed evidence envelope while he was on the stand. The envelope was supposed to contain 64 blue Oxycontin pills, but instead contained 13 pink blood pressure pills. That case ended with a plea agreement and the defendant going free.
A subsequent investigation of the Controlled Substances Lab in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner revealed gross mismanagement and lack of security, which led to at least 55 pieces of drug evidence being stolen or tampered with between 2010 and 2014. Management was ousted and employees were fired and arrested.
As a result of the scandal, Delaware has spent over $1.6 million to send its drug evidence to a private out-of-state lab for testing and the Public Defender’s Office filed 1,000 motions for judges to overturn past drug convictions. The Attorney General’s office agreed to plea deals an or reduced charges in over 700 of these cases.