The nation’s crime labs are no strangers to scandal, says NPR. Last year in Massachusetts, bogus testing by chemist Annie Dookhan called into question tens of thousands of cases and led to the release of more than 300 people from prison. There are no uniform standards or regulations for forensic labs. Congress could take up legislation this year to improve oversight, but critics are skeptical. Dookhan was sent to prison for falsifying drug tests, but many of the criminal cases affected by her misconduct are still in limbo. “The state has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on this scandal, and what have we gotten for that expenditure? The answer is almost nothing,” says Matt Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Certainly hasn’t been justice; it hasn’t been a better approach on the drug war.”
The nonprofit that accredits most of the crime labs in the U.S. is the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. Its chief operations officer, John Neuner, says that accreditation can only go so far, and that the issue in Massachusetts probably was deeper. “It just sounds like an ethical issue,” Neuner says. “Certainly a laboratory can have all the policies and procedures in the world, but if you don’t have ethical people working there, then you’re going to have problems.” Forensics expert Brent Turvey says there have been at least 12 crime lab scandals in the past two years. With more criminal cases relying on forensics, lab oversight is something Congress needs to address.