Probe of DC Crime Lab Could Upend District’s Criminal Justice Systems

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Photo by John Sonderman via Flickr

Prosecutors say they are prepared to reexamine hundreds of open cases and convictions, if necessary, following a series of probes into the District’s crime lab, including an ongoing criminal investigation that centers on allegations that senior leaders concealed conflicting findings and pressured examiners to change results in a firearms case, reports WTOP NEWS.

Testifying at a D.C. Council oversight roundtable Thursday on the operations of the troubled Department of Forensic Sciences, defense attorneys and prosecutors alike said the allegations against the lab could upend the criminal justice system in D.C.

Attorney General Karl Racine’s office, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C., first launched an audit of the lab’s firearms casework last spring following the discovery of an error in a 2015 case by several lab examiners that erroneously linked cartridge casings from two different killings to the same gun.

The investigation into the lab, which is being carried out by the D.C. Office of Inspector General, is still ongoing and its findings have not yet been disclosed. In addition to the criminal probe, the lab had its accreditation to perform a wide array of forensic testing suspended earlier this month, halting some processing of evidence amid an ongoing spike in homicides in the District.

John Hill, chief of the Superior Court Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said there are currently 900 pending cases that his office is prosecuting that rely in some form on DFS examination work.

Katerina Semyonova, special counsel for policy and litigation at the Public Defender Service, said PDS doesn’t know how many cases have been affected by the multiple examiners whose work was flagged as either being faulty or subject to alleged management interference. For now, the city is relying on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to process gun evidence from D.C. crime scenes and paying private labs to analyze DNA evidence.

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