Crime Lab Oversight

Forensic science errors – both inadvertent and calculated – are a leading cause of wrongful convictions.

Despite several lab scandals across the country in recent years which show that innocent people were convicted because of crime lab errors, and notwithstanding the important efforts undertaken by some accrediting entities to address this issue, states have historically done little to investigate or remedy these problems and ensure the integrity of forensic evidence.

For more information on the long history of crime lab negligence and scandal in the U.S., visit the Forensic Science Misconduct section.

The 2004 Justice For All Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, requires states seeking federal funding for crime labs to have an appropriate process to conduct independent, external investigations into allegations of negligence or misconduct affecting forensic results. Still, a number of states lack the independence and/or process necessary to ensure the integrity of results from forensic crime labs.

Fixing labs today with proper oversight

The Innocence Project supports the forensic community in its ongoing fight for the funding it deserves as caseloads grow and the public becomes more demanding. Crime victims, police, prosecutors and courts all gain from an efficient system that minimizes errors and focuses resources on the punishment of the guilty. The following recommendations, developed by the Innocence Project during years of research and experience, can substantively address laboratory fraud and error:

  • Create an accreditation system: All laboratories testing forensic evidence for use in courtrooms must be reviewed regularly by an external agency. All technicians should be licensed.
  • Form oversight commissions: Independent panels should be created in each state to review the forensic methods that are accepted in state courtrooms and to investigate allegations of misconduct, negligence or error in labs.
  • Enforce requirements that are already in place: Many states receive federal grant money under the Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant program. This grant money comes with the requirement that the state conduct independent investigations into any allegations of misconduct. Many states have accepted the grants but have not complied with this requirement.

For more information on the long history of crime lab negligence and scandal in the U.S., visit the Innocence Project’s Forensic Science Misconduct section.

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