Look-back and breaking news on why crimes labs should have independent oversight

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This all blows opposite to what the cop crime labs are saying and its a good thing.

Here’s the latest from California about botched lab false-positive semen testing results that goes back decades. A hearsay statement has the Santa Clara crime lab director saying:

“Our DA’s Office is freaking out,” 


The Columbus Dispatch has undertaken significant journalism and critical review of police-run crime lab culture from a FACT basis of events. Below is the full article.


Police and prosecutors call it “the CSI effect”: The unrealistic portrayal of forensic science in television dramas has conditioned jurors to expect — and give great credence to — crime-scene evidence tied to the accused through high-tech analysis.

Sometimes, the key to identifying a murderer — and sending him to prison or death — is only few fibers, or maybe a single hair, blood patterns, a trace of poison, a boot mark or a tire track.

“Wow,” says the viewer. “That’s unbelievable.”

And, in real life, it might be: Forensic science is under attack as highly flawed, according to a recent Dispatch article. A lack of standards, training and verification of results is partly to blame. Other times, scientists appear to go rogue, helping police build their case by favorably interpreting evidence or fabricating results.

Take the case of G. Michele Yezzo, whose 32 years of specialized work at the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation is being questioned — seven years after she retired.

A statewide task force of justice groups and defense lawyers last month launched a sweeping review of all Yezzo-related convictions, despite no problems being found during an internal review by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Regardless of their findings, this controversy underscores a broader debate over the quality of forensic science: Yezzo conducted her analysis of evidence without much oversight. Her reports summarizing findings were reviewed by supervisors, but her actual work, methods and conclusions rarely were checked. And her work went unquestioned even as red flags were raised about her mental stability; for example, records show she was accused of saying she’d shoot her co-workers and herself.

Yazzo isn’t the only forensic scientist to fall under scrutiny. In Franklin County, the coroner’s office chief toxicologist from 1977 to 2003, James Ferguson, lied about his academic credentials; his testimony was key to the homicide conviction of a young mother and nurse, whose husband overdosed on drugs. She’d spent 20 years in prison before Ferguson’s dishonesty was discovered.

In Los Angeles County, the police department crime lab spent millions of dollars on fixes after it mishandled evidence, notably tainting the famed bloody glove in the O.J. Simpson murder case.

And in the 1990s, major reforms followed charges that the FBI crime lab mishandled evidence in key cases, such as the bombings at the World Trade Center and in Oklahoma City.

According to the New York-based Innocence Project, more than 100 crime labs and their forensic scientists have been implicated in incidents involving serious errors, falsifying evidence or faulty methods.

A 2009 report mandated by Congress cites a lack of standards for training of forensic scientists and testing of evidence. Scientists analyzing trace evidence were largely self-taught and have no data to support their findings, the report from National Research Council said.

The council recommended increasing scientific standards and making crime labs independent of the control of law-enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

The legal system isn’t immune to injustices, such as mistaken identities or inadequate defense attorneys. That’s why appeals are built into the system. But bad science is preventable, and it is causing widespread harm.

A Dispatch analysis of data since 1989 from the National Registry of Exonerations found that faulty or misleading forensic science played significant role in nearly 1 in 4 of the wrongful convictions of 1,900 people. That included 16 Ohioans, four of whom were sentenced to death.

People’s lives and liberty depend on competent forensic science. Until this profession itself clears out the “lab rats,” it will continue to be under attack.

About csidds

Dr. Michael Bowers is a long time forensic consultant in the US and international court systems.
This entry was posted in Crime lab scandal, criminal justice, criminal justice reform, CSI and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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