What do you do when an analyst or a crime laboratory is fraudulent or grossly negligent in what they do?
As there is no meaningful forensic oversight in the United States today, we truly operate in a land not unlike the American Wild Wild West. As the great American West was being tamed, it was a dangerous place.
It was full of lawless. It was brutal. It was full of atrocities and innocent people being killed or maimed for no apparent reason. For an entire period beginning with the great Louisiana purchase until nearly the 20th century, vigilante justice and mob actions were the norm. People took law into their own hands. They did what they thought was right with little to no regard to due process or notions of justice. While romanticized by Hollywood, I suspect that in reality the Wild West was not unlike what Hobbes had penned about life in 1651 England.
In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments. Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). The description contains what has been called one of the best known passages in English philosophy, which describes the natural state mankind would be in, were it not for political community:
In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
— Leviathan XIII “Chapter XIII.: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind As Concerning Their Felicity, and Misery.”, Leviathan
What I have suggested hear with you for over 4 years now on this blog is that the state of Forensic Science is in need of oversight-meaningful oversight and meaningful standardization. If the EPA can mandate the method and instrumentation of testing, if the FDA can establish Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) standards and the broader manufacturing world can require Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) with standardization of methods and instrumentation, why on Earth can’t forensic science?
So, the question becomes: What do you do when an analyst or a crime laboratory is fraudulent or grossly negligent in what they do?
Sadly, next to nothing. There is no meaningful check on the awesome power of an analyst or on a forensic laboratory. The only thing, I suppose you can do if you are wronged is to go and tell it to his or her mama because no one else cares and no one is in place to listen.
It is beyond sad. It is a modern day travesty.
The Washington Post on April 17, 2012 ran as its very front page an article announcing a series of articles where it intended to feature downright forensic fraud. PBS Frontline on the very same day ran a series on the real CSI exposing what really goes on today in the United States. ProPublica has been exposing scandal after scandal. Other blogs, not unlike this one, continue to publish.
When will it finally hit critical mass?
All this activity and publication means is that those seeking to expose the limitations, the appealing state of forensic science today and calling for the need of standardization and reform are in the mainstream.
To my colleagues and the scientists exposing the deficiencies in the forensic science system today, keep it up. To those involved in forensic science, examine your house, take the high road or face the possibility of being exposed.