Three years ago, a National Academy of Sciences report exposed serious problems in the nation’s forensic science labs, says NPR. It found not only a lack of peer-reviewed science in the field, but also insufficient oversight in crime laboratories. Little has changed, and concerns are growing as scandals keep surfacing at crime labs across the nation. Lab employees often report to law enforcement. Marvin Schechter, a defense attorney who was an adviser to the National Academy of Sciences report, recommends making all public crime labs independent. “We seem to believe in this country that forensic work is the property of the police department and the district attorneys, and it should not be. If it’s science, that should be done by independent scientists,” he says.
In 2011, questions arose about the accuracy of testing evidence at a Nassau County, N.Y., crime lab. The police-run lab was shut down and thousands of cases were thrown into question. New York is one of only a few states that require labs to be accredited. It relies on a national nonprofit agency called the American Society of Criminal Lab Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). Its inspectors examine hundreds of labs in nearly every state. Schechter says they don’t truly scrutinize labs. “When ASCLD/LAB comes to a laboratory for an inspection, it announces that they’re coming. It’s not a surprise inspection. Everybody gets a chance to clean up their act,” he says.