The nation's DNA crime labs police themselves largely through an honor system. In the last of three editorials on DNA lab problems, the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot concludes: “The shortcoming with this system is that it is self-starting.” If a lab concludes at the beginning that it did nothing wrong the matter ends there. That's what the Virginia Division of Forensic Science did recently when its results in a high-profile murder case were criticized by three DNA experts. It’s not good enough, says, the newspaper, in an era when the criminal justice system invests enormous faith in DNA testing as a forensic tool. Growing awareness of the potential for human error in interpreting DNA results demands a better system.
The Virginian-Pilot suggests ways to make the oversight of forensics labs more reliable:
–An independent entity needs to be created to address serious disputes involving the handling and analysis of biological material. Suggestions range from creation of a “science court” to a scientific inspector general.
–Forensic scientists need to analyze DNA test results independent of a prosecutor's theory of the crime. In some cases where mistakes have been made, scientists appeared to tailor their interpretations to favor the prosecution.
–Lawyers and judges need more training in the ins-and-outs of DNA testing. They need to be less accepting and more skeptical of analyses coming out of state labs.
–Judges should approve the hiring of expert defense witnesses to scrutinize DNA test results.