Tony Pipitone

Public Defender Seeks Grand Jury on BSO DNA Lab

Broward County’s public defender on Thursday called for a grand jury to investigate what he calls "junk science" and "incompetent forensic analyses" being produced by the Broward Sheriff’s DNA laboratory.

Citing recent reports by the NBC 6 Investigators and Broward New Times, public defender Howard Finkelstein urged state attorney Michael Satz to immediately suspend "in-court reliance on DNA evidence prepared by the crime lab."

To read Finkelstein's letter, click here.

In response, Satz’s office said it shares some of the public defender's concerns. Defense attorneys in all case sinvolving Broward DNA crime lab personnel are being notified of the problems by the state.

And, Satz added, it intends to notify all defendants in closed cases of the same information, whether they pled guilty or stood trial.

Satz did not address the calls for a grand jury in his letter, which he noted was not a complete response and could be supplemented in coming days.

To read Satz's letter, click here.

The sheriff’s office issued a lengthy statement, reproduced in its entirety below, defending the lab, while vowing to make improvements.

The controversy erupted last week, after NBC 6 reported the lab had suspended statistical analysis of DNA results involving more than one contributor – a process used to estimate the likelihood one person (usually a suspect) contributed DNA to a mixture from more than one person.

The lab suspended that part of its DNA testing process after its accrediting agency confirmed two allegations against the lab and the sheriff’s office appeal was denied.

The American Society of Crime Lab Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board threatened to suspend the Broward sheriff’s DNA lab’s accreditation last week, unless it agreed to stop doing those statistical calculations.

Asked to comment on Finkelstein’s demand for a grand jury and exclusion of Broward sheriff’s crime lab evidence, the sheriff’s office released this statement attributed to Undersheriff Steven Kinsey:

 The BSO Crime Laboratory DNA analysis was never part of the initial complaint.  Rather, the complaint concerned the statistical interpretation associated with obtained complex mixed DNA profiles.  No mistakes were ever identified nor asserted for the analysis itself as to any past cases.  The statistical interpretations are a matter of varied opinion – a constantly evolving standard – that may provide slightly different mathematical results.  Either way, the negligible difference produced by using similar but varying statistical calculations would never produce a false identification.  Profiles developed from physical evidence obtained at crime scenes are completely accurate and cannot be altered by an analyst.

 Our methods and protocols have been validated repeatedly through audits and assessments – both by ASCLD and private parties – all with the same result.  The DNA analysis provided by our lab is accurate; and the protocols are sound and meet every standard of ISO 17025 and the FBI Quality Assurance Standards, which are required for all forensic laboratories contributing to the CODIS database.

 To avoid any interruption to the processing of evidence, BSO has voluntarily complied with ASCLD’s suggestion to implement an immediate plan of action, which includes another laboratory providing the statistical interpretation, until the matter is completely resolved.

 We are already working – and have been for some time – to implement the newest standards for DNA analysis and probabilistic statistics regarding the identification and interpretation of DNA profiles developed by our laboratory.   The final implementation date for this new standard is expected within the next 90 days and when complete will surpass all ASCLD requirements.

 BSO remains committed to providing the highest possible crime lab services and implementing methods that keep pace with advances in forensic science.  We welcome rigorous review of all our policies, procedures and protocols in the interest of continuous improvement, transparency and outstanding public service.

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