Nearly five years after Congress passed legislation to ensure that forensic negligence and misconduct are properly investigated, the law is largely being ignored due to a lack of federal guidance. As a result, serious problems in crime labs and other forensic facilities nationwide are not being addressed.

The Paul Coverdell Forensic Science Improvement Grant Program provides federal funds to help improve the quality and efficiency of state and local forensic facilities – as long as grant recipients have proper oversight mechanisms in place to handle forensic problems. Specifically, federal law says that applicants must designate independent, external government entities to review allegations of serious negligence or misconduct affecting the quality of forensic analysis and that those entities must have an appropriate process in place for handling such allegations. A new Innocence Project report finds that only 13% of designated oversight entities meet the federal law’s forensic oversight requirements.
In order for the Coverdell grant program to operate as Congress intended, the Obama Administration must manage the program properly and give grant applicants the tools they need to properly investigate forensic problems. Specifically, the Department of Justice, which administers the program, should:

  • give grant applicants clear guidance on what constitutes an appropriate oversight entity and process for investigating forensic problems;

  • encourage applicants to provide supporting documentation with their applications;

  • make it easier for members of the public to file allegations under the Coverdell program;

  • make sure funded labs are referring problems to their investigative entities;

  • monitor thoroughness and independence of investigations; and, once all of these steps have been taken,

  • withhold funding when the requirements are not met.

Under new leadership, the Department of Justice can – and should – make sure crime lab problems are properly addressed, which will enhance the public safety and help prevent wrongful convictions.

For the full report, “Investigating Forensic Problems in the United States: How the Federal Government Can Strengthen Oversight Through the Coverdell Grant Program,” go to: