Watchdog Faults Justice Department Review of FBI Lab Work

The Justice Department’s internal review of faulty FBI lab work had “serious deficiencies,” including the failure to make death penalty cases a priority, the department’s inspector general concluded.

In a 138-page report released today, the Office of the Inspector General said the Justice Department didn’t review all of the cases by a “problematic” FBI examiner whose work was known to be faulty and whose “scientifically unsupportable” testimony contributed to the conviction of an innocent defendant.

The report also found that the department failed to ensure that defendants learned their convictions may have been tainted, and it didn’t tell prosecutors it was important to swiftly alert defendants to the problems, especially in death penalty cases.

The report was the third by the inspector general into irregularities at the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory; it focused on the efforts between 1996 and 2004 by the Justice department to address the failings. The issues first surfaced in 1994 when a lab scientist complained to the inspector general that examiners committed perjury and presented unsupportable scientific conclusions to juries.

‘Substandard’ Work

The inspector general investigated the claims and “found significant instances of testimonial errors, substandard analytical work, and deficient practices by many lab examiners,” the most recent report said.

Emily Pierce, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said the department has worked to “ensure that defendants’ rights to a fair trial were not affected by the conduct of the criticized examiners.”

“To the extent the IG found deficiencies, the department agrees with the IG’s recommendations and has already begun to implement many of them,” she said in an e-mail.

The latest review was requested in 2012 by Virginia Representative Frank Wolf, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, after reports in the Washington Post raised questions about convictions tainted by erroneous FBI laboratory analysis.

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