Back in 1993, world renowned FBI scientist Dr. Frederic Whitehurst (pictured right) brought to light astonishing deficiencies and scientific fraud at the FBI Crime Lab. These allegations would lead to a massive reform of forensic science at the FBI. The FBI labs were just the beginning, and since that time, Dr. Whitehurst, as director of the National Whistleblowers Center’s Forensic Justice Project, has been a vocal advocate for reforms nationwide. In 2007, his work was highlighted in a 60 Minutes/Washington Post Special Investigation, and Congress took action to force the review of the cases of thousands of criminal defendants who had been convicted on potentially tainted bullet-lead evidence.
A new study by the National Academy of Sciences has put forensic science and crime laboratories back in the news, and not in a good way. The two-year congressionally funded report, issued February 18th, details the need for reform in our nation’s forensic science programs. Specifically, it calls for an independent oversight organization called the National Institute of Forensic Science. Among other deficiencies, the report finds:
- hundreds of thousands of backlogged an delayed requests for analysis
- understaffing at 80% of the nation’s crime labs.
- a lack of certification and accreditation standards leading to inconsistencies between federal, state, local governments.
- hundreds of convictions have been based on flawed science
These findings are extremely troubling, and we are happy that Congress took the initiative to fund this study. Now the New York Times is reporting that the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning to hold hearings on this report, and we believe that there would be no one better to testify on these issues than Dr. Whitehurst.