Crime laboratories must be subjected to mandatory blind proficiency testing

March 4, 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

I have many errands to run today, so I am going to post a short article with a link to an important article by Professor Randolph Jonakait regarding the need to regulate crime laboratories.

His article, published in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology in 1991, reviewed the performance of crime laboratories since the abysmal results of a 1978 study conducted by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA). When his article was published, it was and remains the only independent study measuring laboratory performance in this country.

To say that the results of the LEAA study were shocking is a vast understatement.

Given the persistent stories of fraud and sloppiness in crime laboratories, you would think that some progress would have been made toward requiring crime labs to submit to mandatory blind proficiency testing similar to clinical laboratories pursuant to the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Act (CLIA), but you would be wrong. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) supervises a voluntary program of proficiency testing that is not blind. The labs and the analysts know when they are being tested, a situation that is little better than no proficiency testing.

Putting the fox in charge of protecting the hen-house is about as effective as putting the Wall Street banks in charge of protecting the economy. We all know how well that strategy works.

Some of you may recall Frederic Whitehurst. He was a Supervisor at the FBI Crime Laboratory who blew the whistle on conditions at the lab in 1998. After he blew the whistle, I had the pleasure of having lunch with him at an outdoor cafe in San Diego when I was a co-chair of the Forensic Committee of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). His stories shocked me even though I was no ingenue. I knew there were many problems with crime labs but still believed the FBI Lab was an exception to the rule. I was wrong.

Professor Jonakait’s article is long but well worth reading. Please read and comment.

That is your assignment for today.

Do not forget that we have a hearing tomorrow morning at 9 am EST before Judge Nelson. Hopefully, I will have time later today to post an article about what to expect.

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