A number of scandals at forensic labs around the country in recent years have raised concerns about the quality of oversight, policies, and procedures at some labs. LJAF is pursuing projects to improve lab-management standards. We are funding a review of Houston’s crime lab, which is one of only two in the country to switch from police department to civilian management. The lab implemented changes in policies and procedures that were recommended by an independent inspector who was brought in to conduct an investigation of the lab after problems with its work on many cases came to light in the early 2000s.
LJAF is also underwriting the development of a model lab report. Forensic reports are not currently standardized and often omit important information related to a lab’s analysis, methods, and findings. In addition, we are exploring projects that will leverage data and technology to provide lab managers with key benchmarks and information about the quality and efficiency of the work performed in their facilities.
It is critically important that forensic evidence is collected and analyzed correctly. It is equally important that judges and lawyers understand the processes used and the weight that such evidence should carry in the courtroom. However, as the National Academy of Sciences stated in its 2009 report, “Lawyers often have insufficient training and background in scientific methods, and they often fail to fully comprehend the approaches employed by different forensic science disciplines and the strengths and vulnerabilities of forensic science evidence offered during trials.” LJAF is working to address this issue by funding the National Judicial College to develop and administer an online forensic science education program for judges. We are looking to create a similar program for lawyers.