Allegations raised against the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), also known as the D.C. crime lab, potentially are putting prosecutions in the District in jeopardy.
Three confidential sources have come forward and alleged that mistakes have been made in the firearms and fingerprints sections of the Department of Forensic Sciences and then covered up by the department’s managers.
A former federal prosecutor said criminal cases that have already been adjudicated could end up back in court.
As part of the criminal investigation, investigators with the D.C. Inspector General’s Office have already examined emails, chain of custody reports, evidence examination reports and interviewed at least seven employees at the lab.
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The D.C. crime lab has been under a criminal investigation since early December. The lab has been told to stop examining evidence for 30 days.
“It creates severe headaches for frankly the Metropolitan Police Department, the citizens of the District of Columbia, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the corporation counsel — I guess we call them the Office of the Attorney General now,” said Deborah Sines, who spent years as a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sines prosecuted violent crimes — cases that often relied on evidence tested at a lab.
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“This is just so discouraging, and it puts a lot of hard work in jeopardy, including the good examiners who do the good work,” Sines said.
For the time being, the District will have to use outside private and government labs to examine evidence in criminal cases.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser already said she will appeal the ruling to suspend the lab’s accreditation.
Meanwhile, D.C. Council member Charles Allen said he will call Jennifer Smith, the director of the lab, to testify under oath at a hearing later in April.
This is not the first time the D.C. crime lab has faced issues. The DNA section of the lab was shut down in 2015 for nearly a year, and the director lost his job.
“Management issues at DFS are not new,” Sines said. “It has been going on since the beginning. None of this is new to me.”