released today by the Innocence Project finds that the U.S. Department of Justice is failing to ensure that forensic negligence and misconduct are properly investigated. Nearly five years ago, Congress passed legislation to improve forensic oversight, but today’s report shows that the federal government’s poor management of the program has kept serious problems in crime labs across the country from being addressed.
Over the last five years, all 50 states have received federal forensic funds and nearly $100 million has been dispersed in all, but the Department of Justice has not enforced the oversight requirement. Including in today’s report is an Innocence Project survey of more than 256 relationships between applicants for funding and their designated oversight entities, finding that only 13% of them meet the requirements of the federal law.
The report goes on to outline steps the Obama Administration can take to fix the problem, including:
• Provide better guidance to applicants about what qualifies as an “independent external government entity” and an “appropriate process” for conducting investigations under the Coverdell program’s forensic oversight requirements.
• Require applicants to specifically certify that the oversight entity knows it has been designated to receive allegations and handle investigations, articulating how the entity is independent and external, and spelling out the process the entity would use to conduct an investigation.
• Make it easier for forensic employees, criminal justice practitioners and members of the public to file allegations of forensic negligence or misconduct under the Coverdell program.
• Make sure labs are referring allegations to their investigative entities.
• Monitor thoroughness and independence of investigations.
• Withhold funding when the requirements aren’t met — but only after giving Coverdell grant recipients the guidance, information and time they need to comply with the requirements.