There has been a lot of media attention to problems in government laboratories lately. I came across an article recently that I found enlightening. ABAJOURNAL article, Crimes in the Lab by Mark Hansen, discusses major concerns over malpractice in DNA testing facilities. There are examples all over the country of these DNA testing facilities being under investigation, shutdown, and lab employees being fired or facing charges for mishandling DNA evidence through malfeasance or incompetence.
A major problem with the discovery of malpractice in these facilities is that hundreds of cases within the affected areas are either being reviewed or the evidence is completely delegitimized. There have been several cases where former suspects have been exonerated due to mishandled DNA evidence that led to their convictions, this of course, after some of these suspects had spent years in prison. Most alarming is the fact that the DNA facilities that have been caught in malpractice are believed to be just the tip of the iceberg, because these facilities are usually only discovered in the most egregious circumstances. The article makes the case that the issue at hand is more than likely systemic.
This is an issue of immediate concern since the government recently decided to increase testing on serious offenders to match against a national database. The article lays out the ABA’s recommended solution in stating,
“The ABA House of Delegates adopted two resolutions that first urge governments at all levels to adopt pretrial discovery procedures requiring crime labs to produce comprehensive and comprehensible reports that spell out procedures in an analysis; the results of the analysis; the identity, qualifications and opinions of the analyst and anybody else who participated in the testing; and any additional information that could bear on the validity of the test results. The second resolution urges judges and lawyers to consider several factors in determining how expert testimony should be presented to a jury and in instructing juries to evaluate that testimony.”
In summary, to avoid further malpractice in DNA testing, governmental regulation as stipulated in the article is needed. This is an important issue because DNA testing is only increasing, and there have already been many cases where suspects have been falsely imprisoned due to a lack of governmental standards that leads to malpractice.
Hansen, Mark. “Crimes in the Lab.” ABA JOURNAL Sep. 2013.
Michael D. Hills