ERRORS AT F.B.I. MAY BE ISSUE IN 3,000 CASES
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, March 17, 2003 10:26 AM
Subject: [patrickcrusade] NYTimes.com Article: Errors at F.B.I. May Be Issue in 3,000 Cases
Errors at F.B.I. May Be Issue in 3,000 Cases
March 17, 2003
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON, March 16 (AP) - The Justice Department has identified about 3,000 criminal cases that could have been affected by flawed procedures and skewed testimony by F.B.I. laboratory technicians before 1997. It is letting prosecutors who handled those cases decide whether defendants should be notified.
Government officials said they were aware of 100 to 150 cases in which prosecutors had alerted defendants to problems that might have affected their verdicts. None have resulted in overturned convictions, they said.
One of the cases has reached the Florida Supreme Court. The court ruled last week that a convicted murderer, George Trepal, was not entitled to a new trial, despite evidence that the F.B.I.'s chief toxicology chemist gave inaccurate testimony.
The inquiry stems from a scandal in the mid-1990's, when Frederic Whitehurst, a senior chemist at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, went public with reports of shoddy work, tainted evidence and skewed testimony. A Justice Department investigation concluded in 1997 that 13 laboratory
technicians had made scientific errors in cases or slanted testimony to help prosecutors. Several were reprimanded, but none were fired or prosecuted.
F.B.I. and Justice officials say they continue to review cases handled by those technicians. But they say that the laboratory is much different now and that changes have been made to ensure that scientific and forensic analyses are
subjected to checks and balances.
The changes, said Dwight Adams, the laboratory director, include a requirement that all work be reviewed by another technician with the same expertise and by a supervisor. In addition, the laboratory has won accreditation from the scientific community every year since 1998.
Despite the changes, some criminal defense lawyers are critical of the Justice Department's decision to let federal, state and local prosecutors decide whether to notify defendants of problems.
"That's like asking the fox to guard the henhouse," said a former federal prosecutor, Neal Sonnett.
"If there is a possibility that evidence has been tainted, then the Department of Justice or prosecutors should not be the arbiter of whether it's material," Mr. Sonnett said.