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If you get a routine strep test, that lab test is regulated by detailed statutes requiring quality controls and reliable testing methods. If a forensic test sends a person to prison, nothing of the sort is required.

While medical labs have been regulated for decades, to this day, there is almost no oversight of crime labs or the police and prosecution use of forensic evidence. In response to this glaring need, a few states have created forensic science commissions, but none have the authority or resources to do routine oversight of labs. More labs are accredited, too, but accreditation by itself just ensures standards exist on paper, but not actual oversight. We need independent labs, scientific oversight, and proper quality control measures. How can we accomplish this?

Read more about various examples of quality management and oversight here and then return to the Toolkit to learn more about how you can help in your jurisdiction.

Quality Management

All clinical labs must have quality management plans as well.  Every lab needs a quality management plan in place.  They need to conduct ongoing quality assessments.  These involve: 

  • Ongoing monitoring of each process used in a laboratory to identify errors or potential problems that could result in errors; 
  • Taking corrective action; and 
  • Evaluating corrective actions taken, to ensure they will be effective to prevent recurrence. 

As part of this work, lab leadership must develop and review the laboratories quality management plan.  They must review the laboratories proficiency testing enrollment and performance. They must review all corrective actions.  Fundamentally, they must take responsibility for quality control throughout the lab, by constantly testing it and taking action to improve it.

We need similarly serious legislation and quality controls imposed on crime labs. It could be federal, but similar regulations could be adopted at the state and local levels.  More local labs are at least considering quality control programs, with blind testing, independent testing, auditing, and more.  The Houston Forensic Science Center is one example of a lab that adopts a lab-wide quality program.


Investing in Quality Control: The Houston Forensic Science Center

In 2003, a DNA test exonerated George Rodriquez, who had been convicted based on testimony by an examiner from the Houston Police Crime Lab.  In 2002, just before Rodriguez sought this DNA testing, journalists uncovered errors in the Houston lab DNA unit’s work.

Some reforms your jurisdiction might consider:

  • The community should have the right to public information about crime lab procedures, processes, and quality control.
  • If algorithms or other technologies are being used on members of the public, they should be disclosed and pre-approved for use.
  • Routine blind proficiency testing should be required to assure that all forensic experts are sufficiently reliable.
  • Routine spot-checking or auditing of casework should be required.
  • Routine investigations and audits should follow from any reported quality control failures at labs, with written protocols to be followed, and required responses to address these deficiencies.