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Public Hearing on Forensic Sciences Comes on the Heels of BBA Drug Lab Report

February 13, 2014

On Monday, the Boston Bar Association released its Drug Lab Task Force Report making three recommendations including a call for enhanced auditing and oversight of our state drug labs.  The next day, the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security held a public hearing and 4 bills dealing directly with forensic sciences were on the agenda.

All 4 bills would address some of the concerns raised in our Drug Lab Report.  S 1112, filed by Senator Brownsberger, requires all forensic sciences laboratories to be independent; establishes an oversight board; requires that all forensic sciences laboratories be accredited by an accrediting body; and establishes a forensic sciences laboratory ombudsman within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  S 1122, filed by Senator Creem, is modeled off one of the recommendations in the BBA’s Getting it Right Report and establishes a forensic sciences advisory board.   S 1153 filed by Senator Moore, requires forensic service providers to be accredited.  The final bill, S 1175, filed by Senator Tarr, requires more oversight of crime labs and seeks to establish a forensic services drug laboratory oversight board within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

A lot of positive actions have been taken in the wake of mishandling of evidence at our state drug labs.  For example, the Courts worked closely with defense attorneys and prosecutors to come up with policies and procedures for dealing with these cases.  In addition, Governor Patrick appointed David Meier to oversee the central office charged with assessing the criminal cases potentially jeopardized by the mishandling of evidence.  Meier then conducted a case by case review of individuals potentially affected.  Ultimately, Control of the state drug labs was moved from the Department of Public Health to the State Police Forensic Services Group.

We have an opportunity to really get it right within our criminal justice system.  The Executive Branch, the Courts, and all involved have taken steps in the right direction but there’s more to be done.  It’s good to see the Legislature is also thinking of solutions and we hope that these collective actions will help prevent another drug lab incident.

– Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association