April 18, 1997 in Nation/World

Defense Lawyers Seek Fbi Files, Investigation Crime Lab Problems Have ‘Compromised’ Entire Criminal Justice System, Official Says

Cox News Service

The nation’s criminal defense lawyers called Thursday for open access to FBI crime lab reports and urged Congress to investigate the FBI for allowing complaints about the lab to go unheeded for years.

“The entire criminal justice system in this country has been compromised,” said William Moffitt, vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Judges have been fooled, juries have been deceived, and in the name of the American people, innocent people have gone to jail.”

Grist for the charges was provided Tuesday in a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that found serious problems in the nation’s premier criminal laboratory.

The report chronicled instances in which lab examiners had used faulty scientific methods, exaggerated their areas of expertise on the witness stand and provided juries with inaccurate testimony.

The report faulted lab managers for taking no action against examiners, whose work was questioned as early as 1989.

The inspector general focused on only three of the lab’s 35 divisions and on only a handful of the nearly 700,000 examinations performed by the lab each year, identifying about 15 examiners and supervisors whose work is suspect.

Defense lawyers asserted Thursday that “thousands” of cases could be tainted and called on the FBI to provide defense attorneys with free access to examiner case files.

“All cases that have been analyzed by the FBI lab need to be open … so that both sides can see exactly what the evidence is,” said Daniel S. Alcorn, who is suing the Justice Department on behalf of the criminal defense lawyers association to obtain access to FBI records. “Corruption grows in secrecy. We think there should be an open process in every case.”

To buttress their claims, defense attorneys appeared at a news conference with Frederic Whitehurst, the FBI lab examiner who blew the whistle on practices at the lab.

Whitehurst, who is on administrative leave, is fighting to return to the lab, but his fate is in the hands of the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for management, according to Attorney General Janet Reno.

At her weekly news briefing Thursday, Reno left open the possibility that Justice Department investigators will examine other instances of abuse in other divisions of the lab.

But she said she “had not heard of any” new information to warrant an expanded probe.

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