I’ve written a number of times (here and here an here, for example) about the problems with forensic science laboratories in this country. Just in the last few months, we’ve seen scandals hit labs in Massachusetts, St. Paul, Minnesota, and in Mississippi. It seems that the parade might never end.
But today, news emerged that indicates that, just maybe, forensic reform might be on the national agenda.
The new Congress will, of course, be preoccupied with budget and fiscal matters, and also with the President’s efforts on gun control and an expected push for immigration reform. But Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has announced that he intends to put forensic reform onto the long list of issues he will examine. According to The BLT (the Blog of the Legal Times, which covers law and government in Washington), Leahy’s committee will be working on an ambitious agenda: immigration, national security and civil liberties issues (including the use of drones in both foreign and domestic contexts), and gun control policy, but that isn’t all. “The committee will also focus on promoting national standards and oversight for forensic labs and practitioners,” BLT says.
This is a welcome development. People can disagree about whether we should have national standards (I think yes) or a “national institute of forensic science,” (again, I say yes) as proposed in the National Academy of Sciences’ 2009 report Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward. But it’s hard to argue that we should not hold the current situation up to the light for some long-overdue scrutiny and discussion of higher standards and better oversight. With the never-ending parade of state and local scandals in crime labs, a little federal look-see could actually help.