Thursday, November 29, 2012

Annie Dookhan: Part Two. Crisis in the Crime Lab: The District of Columbia's experiment in forensic science. By Maggie Clark. Stateline.

STORY:  "D.C. Crime lab: An experiment in forensic science; Second of two parts. By reporter Maggie Clark. Published in "Stateline" the Journal of the Pew Center on the States."  The Center says it provides, "nonpartisan reporting and research, advocacy, and technical assistance to help states deliver better results and achieve long-term fiscal health by investing in programs that provide the strongest returns."

GIST: "Traditionally, states and other jurisdictions have kept crime labs tied to the police or the prosecutor’s office both for logistical and budgetary reasons. It’s easier for police officers to drop off evidence if the crime lab is in the same building as the police department, says Jessica Gabel, assistant professor of law at Georgia State University. And it’s easier for states to allocate funding to law enforcement agencies and then have them disperse money to the crime labs.
But that closeness costs labs in other ways. “Crime labs don’t get evidence in a vacuum,” says Gabel. “They hear that someone’s killed a child, and the pressure’s on (to identify the killer).” The closeness between crime labs and police can also open labs up to harsh criticism, says Mendelson. “If the crime lab is within the police department, defense attorneys could say to an analyst, ‘well, you work for law enforcement, you’re just proving the police officer’s case.’ It’s better for the justice system when forensic analysis is done by a separate agency.” A few states, including Virginia and Rhode Island, do operate their crime labs separately from law enforcement. But those states have always been seen as exceptions to standard practice. Now, Houck believes, D.C.’s civilian-led crime lab can point the way to similar changes in crime labs across the country. “We need a national strategy on forensic science,” he says. “Our strategy can’t simply be more money and neither can it be, ‘let’s hope we don’t screw up.’ Here, we are running the agency as a science-based organization and as a peer with other agencies like the medical examiner or law enforcement with the focus really being on the science.”

The entire story can be found at:

Part One:;postID=620873148528238472


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