A recurring problem with DNA contamination and errors at the Washington State Patrol crime labs has prompted a call for a legislative review and sparked a debate about whether a law enforcement agency should be running the labs, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Defense attorneys and legislators say a review of the statewide forensic system is needed to address whether more government oversight is needed over the labs that process the bulk of Washington’s criminal evidence.
The Post-Intelligencer reported this summer that forensic scientists at the labs have contaminated tests or made other mistakes while handling DNA evidence in at least 23 major crime cases over the last three years. The investigation also raised questions about other systemic flaws, including failures in the lab system’s internal checks and balances, and delays in dealing with misconduct or inept work by veteran employees. State Rep. Al O’Brien, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, said, “I’m going to ask for a review during this upcoming session of the Legislature,” he said. “… People’s lives are at stake.”