Reform Needed in VA Crime Lab
Crime lab scientists shouldn't feel pressured to produce results that favor the prosecution. They're paid by the government, but they aren't law enforcement officers or prosecutors. Their duty is to seek the truth, not to spin it.
Too often, crime lab scientists view themselves as working for the prosecution, not as working for justice. An independent audit of the Virginia crime lab released yesterday was so critical of the lab's handling of DNA evidence that Gov. Mark Warner has ordered a review of the lab's testing in 150 cases.
Among the auditors' eight recommendations, all of which were accepted by Mr. Warner, were that the governor restrict the work of the lab's chief DNA scientist, Jeffrey Ban; review 40 cases that Mr. Ban has handled in recent years, along with a sample totaling 110 additional cases; and develop procedures to insulate the lab from any outside political pressures.
Among other cases, the lab twice botched the DNA testing in the prosecution of Earl Washington Jr., a man who was nearly executed for a crime he probably didn't commit. Peter Neufeld, co-director of the Innocence Project and one of Washington's lawyers, correctly argues that Washington's case "raises very serious questions about the legitimacy of the capital justice system." It also raises questions about the legitimacy of less serious convictions that depend on crime lab evidence.
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