It’s been a long time since I could say I was looking forward to cross-examining a DNA expert from Connecticut’s forensic crime labs. But those days are over. Thanks to the recent audit by analysts from the National Institute of Justice and National Forensic Since Technology Center, I’ve an outline for my cross examination, and reasons galore to doubt the lab’s findings.
We members of the criminal defense bar were never supposed to see these reports. “This document is to be used for pre-decision purposes only by the laboratory audited and NDIS in determining compliance with these standards,” a statement in red letters on the bottom of the both reports’ first page reads.
Here is but a selection of gems taken from the report:
Does the lab have a technical leader accountable for technical operations? No.
Does the lab maintain a flow chart of who is responsible for what? No.
Do laboratory personnel have the education, training, and experience commensurate with the examination and testimony provided? No.
Does the lab have a training manual that covers all applicable DNA analytical procedures that the analyst/technician will perform? No.
Does the technical leader satisfy the requirements for degree/education and experience required by federal standards? No.
Does the laboratory use validated methods for DNA analyses? No.
Does the lab made adequate efforts for validate findings in the areas of cross-contamination and the comparison of known and non-probative evidence? No.
Are there standard operating procedures for the technology used on the lab? No.
Are such operating procedures as exist reviewed annually? No.
Are specified means required for conducting tests? No.
Does the lab monitor analytic procedures using appropriate controls and standards? No.
Does the lab check its testing procedures annually or when substantial changes are made against appropriate national standards? No.
Does the lab follow written guidelines for the interpretation of data? No.
Does the have and follow documented procedures for interpreting date about major and minor contributors? No. For inclusions and exclusions? No.
Does the lab have and follow a documented policy for detecting and controlling contamination? No.
Does the lab have and follow a documented program for conducting performance checks and calibrating equipment and instruments? No.
Does the lab have and follow written procedures for taking and maintaining case notes to support the conclusions drawn in laboratory notes? No.
Does the lab conduct and document administrative and technical reviews of the case files and reports to ensure that conclusions and supporting data are reasonable and within the constraints of scientific knowledge? No.
Has the laboratory been audited annually in accordance with the FBI DNA Quality Assurance Standards? No.
This is damning stuff, but not to the lab’s current DNA czar, Dr. Carll Ladd. He apparently wrote on internal memo in response to an earlier version of this report dated July 31, 2011, in which he tried to explain away all of these failings. That report should be released to the public. Indeed, this whole sorry mess ought to find its way to public hearings as soon as possible.
Many criminal defense lawyers around the state like Dr. Ladd. He plays fair, they say, and is as accessible to the state as to the defense. While fairness matters, competence and a commitment to best practices also matter. The new audit suggests that Dr. Ladd is not the right guy for the job. The lab’s work should be transparent and conducted in accord with the highest national standards.
The results of the recent federal audit of the forensic crime lab creates reasonable doubt about whether the lab is up to the job of analyzing DNA, at least when a person’s liberty might well depend on the lab’s analysis.