Friday, July 13, 2012

FBI/Justice Dept. Crime Lab Review

The Washington Post Tuesday reported that the "Justice Department and FBI have launched a review of thousands of criminal cases to determine whether any defendants were wrongly convicted or deserve a new trial because of flawed forensic evidence -- an undertaking the largest post-conviction review ever done by the FBI, that will include cases conducted by all FBI Laboratory hair and fiber examiners since at least 1985 and may reach earlier if records are available, people familiar with the process said. Such FBI examinations have taken place in federal and local cases across the country, often in violent crimes, such as rape, murder and robbery."

"The action," the Paper said, "came after it
reported back in April that Justice Department officials had known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people but had not performed a thorough review of the cases, and at a time when the National Academy of Sciences is urging the White House and Congress to remove crime labs from police and prosecutors' control, or at least to strengthen the science and standards underpinning the nation’s forensic science system."

A congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council, three years ago, found serious deficiencies in the nation's forensic science system and called for major reforms and new research. Rigorous and mandatory certification programs for forensic scientists were lacking, according to the report, as were strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on evidence.

"Forensic evidence is often offered in criminal prosecutions and civil litigation to support conclusions about individualization -- in other words, to 'match' a piece of evidence to a particular person, weapon, or other source. But with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, no forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source,” the report found.

The Washington Post had a second article back in April on this study in which it also reported that "Congress and the Obama administration were then trying to regulate forensic science to help establish standards, with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) weighing legislation that could subject techniques to greater scientific scrutiny and help establish their ranges of accuracy."

Leahy's bill, the
"Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act of 2011" (SB 132), which would create a new office of forensic science in the Justice Department, was introduced in January 2011, and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Rockefeller was preparing legislation to expand the role of the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology in setting scientific standards and research goals." That bill, The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2012, was introduced yesterday, "coming amid growing concerns nationally that many criminal justice proceedings use evidence developed through flawed forensic work." also had a story this morning here.

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