The surprising decision of the California Crime Lab Task Force to vote itself out of existence this month is a mistake that puts justice itself at risk, editorializes the Sacramento Bee, which says the decision “should be quickly revisited and rescinded.” Created in 2007 and composed of defense attorneys, crime lab directors, prosecutors and police, the task force was charged with reviewing the state of forensic science in the state and reporting on ways to improve it.
It produced a voluminous report last year with 41 recommendations to improve conditions at the state’s forensic labs. After the report highlighted problems at labs and recommended fixes, a majority of the panel decided that the task force should disband and await expected federal action designed to improve crime lab standards and practices nationwide. Hundreds of criminal cases have been thrown out in San Francisco after a criminologist there was alleged to be stealing drugs. Less well known, but equally worrisome, are 3,000 cases under review because of discrepancies about methamphetamine evidence reported by police and criminalists at another crime lab. While it’s primarily the defense bar that’s pushing for the reinstatement of independent oversight, all within the criminal justice system should share the same goal, says the Bee: “Justice and public safety depend on making sure that the forensic science of the criminal justice system is the best it can possibly be.”