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Bill seeks to overhaul DC's forensics lab after agency loses accreditation

For over a year, the Department of Forensic Sciences has not been analyzing evidence such as firearms, DNA, or fingerprints.

WASHINGTON — A new bill proposes to completely overhaul the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences after over a year that the lab lost its accreditation in April of 2021. 

Councilmember Charles Allen, who introduced the legislation Thursday, told WUSA9 in an interview that the suspension of the lab has been damaging calling it a "complete implosion of the forensics sciences."

The crime lab has not been able to analyze evidence such as firearms, DNA and fingerprints for criminal prosecution following the receipt of an audit report from the ANSI National Accreditation Board that says the "ANAB received credible evidence that the D.C. Department of Forensic Sciences, Forensic Science Laboratory Division, has deliberately concealed information from the ANAB assessment team, violated accreditation requirements, engaged in misrepresentations and fraudulent behavior, and engaged in conduct that brings ANAB into dispute."

"It has a huge impact on our criminal justice system on the ability to investigate everything from shootings to DNA, to fingerprints ... and as well as cases from the past where now it comes into question if there was the right evidence and integrity of convictions is now in question as well," Allen said.

DFS is currently undergoing a reform but Allen says legislative changes need to be made. Under his proposed bill, DFS would go through a leadership restructuring and would be an independent agency removed from the mayor's office similar to the Board of Elections. 

During an event dedicated to launching an anti-violence campaign, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she wanted to take more time to make structural changes to the agency. 

The mayor said, "The problem at DFS is not that it needs to be independent from me, the issue is that it needs to be independent from the prosecutors. That has created the tensions at DFS." 

For over a year it has shipped evidence to private labs or federal agencies to be analyzed because it is incapable of examining it.

"That puts at risk the ability for an investigation to move on timely, for a prosecution to know if they are going to move forward swiftly," Allen said.  

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine echoed Allen's sentiment telling WUSA9 in a statement, "My office has been raising the alarm about deficiencies at DFS, and how the serious problems at the crime lab have hurt public safety, undermined the credibility in and fairness of the criminal justice system, and will cost taxpayers millions of dollars as they shoulder the burden of funding a complete review of forensic evidence that has been used in criminal cases over the last several years." 

Allen's bill has the support of 8 of his colleagues. The legislation is first set to go through public comment with an expected final vote by fall of 2022. 

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