Whistleblower Protection Blog
Bullet-Lead and The Forensic Justice Project
The entry below is a special contribution from Dr. Frederic Whitehurst, the Executive Director of the Forensic Justice Project (a special project of the National Whistleblower Center)
The justice system needs answers, and science never comes up with final answers. Science often discovers that previous answers to questions were not valid. When forensic science renders opinions in courts of law that are in the future found to be no longer valid, such as in the case of bullet-lead analysis, then we have no mechanisms to revisit the cases where people were unfairly accused. The FBI and the DOJ have for the past nine years strongly resisted efforts by the Forensic Justice Project to determine the names of those defendants who were treated unfairly as a result of bad forensic science.
One would assume that the reason for this lack of cooperation would be the perceived liability from discovery of falsely accused individuals who have spent years, possibly decades, incarcerated after being falsely accused by forensic science. Whatever the reason, Special Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation take an oath of office before receipt of their badges and credentials. That oath includes their willingness to enforce the law and uphold the US Constitution. That oath means that citizens become more important to FBI Agents than those agents are to themselves. It would seem that the US Department of Justice would agressively seek to protect the safety of all citizens, regardless of the source of any harm coming to those citizens. And therefore when the FBI Crime Laboratory makes mistakes and those mistakes harm US citizens, the FBI and the US DOJ should aggressively pursue making those citizens aware that they have been tried unfairly and offer any assistance necessary to make those citizens whole. The last thing the US DOJ should do is what has been done, to aggressively stop parties from discovery of those citizens harmed. It is obvious that the US DOJ does not have the assets or moral fiber needed to function fairly in this way. Therefore private citizen groups need to acquire the information from investigative files and make that information available and assist individuals who have been harmed by bad forensic science from the FBI Lab or any other crime lab.
Following revelations in 1997 of wrong doing and invalid science at the FBI Crime Lab, the Forensic Justice Project set about determining those individuals who had been harmed. With the mantra, "Stop It, Fix It, and Find Out Who Was Harmed" the Forensic Justice Project acquired a vast amount of information to determine the real reasons for the perceived problems. FJP makes that information available to parties all over the world, looking only for feedback of information from the recipients. The model built has been one of acquiring transcripts, data, lab reports and other information in order to determine the real issues associated with "bad" forensic science. Going beyond the simple "He said, She said" arguments that get nowhere, FJP has acquired the underlying data for open review. The team built around any issue involves criminal defense attorneys (who provide transcripts of testimony and laboratory work product), aggressive Freedom of Information inquiries, scientists who have been willing to provide a great deal of research resulting in papers written in the scientific literature, and victim defendants who are more than willing to share all of their data.
The project works on a shoe-string budget with individual participants conducting their individual parts on a pro-bono basis.
Dr. Frederic Whitehurst
Forensic Justice Project