Reform Needed in VA Crime Lab

by TChris

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.

The Virginia crime lab exists as an "independent" state agency, but no independent office reviews the lab's work. A member of the forensic science academy criticized the lab for failing to shield the DNA analyist in Washington's case "from 'typical' political pressure on crime labs."

"The audit provides compelling evidence that crime labs can't police themselves," Mr. Neufeld said.

Virginia is reputed to have one of the best state crime labs in the country. The lessons learned in Virginia should be recognized and heeded in other states, as well.

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    Re: Reform Needed in VA Crime Lab (none / 0) (#1)
    by DawesFred60 on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:49 PM EST
    TalkLeft, I Love you, but come on you know that the system always works for the political prosecution, and as far as evidence goes, the old saying is, if the guy, "didn't do the crime he did some other crime", so the boys in the lab make up evidence to help the prosecution put the guy away, its third world ideals, that in fact are being used in our so called justice system for many years now. hey its a living for all, and the imprisonment for millions, and the sad fact is it will only get bigger and in fact the crime business will be the biggest business in the empire within 5 years, so put your money into crime lab's and don't do crime. Remember its ok to fight the cops but not ok to kill the cops. DNA A tool of justice? only if its done right.

    Re: Reform Needed in VA Crime Lab (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 12:58:49 PM EST
    Just a quick reminder, there has been two high profile executions where the DNA was at issue in Virginia -- specifically, O'Dell & Coleman. I called those cases several years ago two of twenty-five cases of potentially factually innocent people being executed. Those cases are not under review from my understanding. - k