Will Federal Crime Lab Reform Affect California?

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Perhaps not, according to an interesting report published yesterday by California Watch.

Kendall Taggart writes that some of the foremost advocates for reforming the field of forensic science within California are skeptical as to whether new legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy will improve the state's crime labs. Among them is Barry Fisher, former head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department crime lab and a member of the state Legislature's now-disbanded Crime Lab Review Task Force.

Taggart reports:

"The difficulty with federal legislation is that it doesn't have a great deal of control over what goes on in the states," said Fisher, the former crime lab director from L.A. "If they put some money on the table, which of course is questionable in these times, people might take on more oversight."

"Otherwise," he added, "there's nothing the federal government can do. The key to anything happening here in California lies with the new governor, the new attorney general and the Legislature."

If Fisher is right, the issue of forensics reform could be a particularly sticky one for incoming Attorney General Kamala Harris. During her time as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris has repeatedly faced scrutiny for her office's role in concealing crime lab analysts' mistakes and misconduct from defense attorneys.

The unexpected termination of the state task force's work in 2009 also raises questions about how seriously officials in Sacramento take the issue of crime lab oversight, according to some former task force members.

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