Statement of Jose Marrero, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia
Before Councilmember Charles Allen, Chairperson
Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
Public Oversight Roundtable on the Operations of the Department of Forensic Sciences
October 14, 2021
Good afternoon. My name is Jose Marrero. I serve as Assistant Chief of the Criminal Section of the Public Safety Division of the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia (OAG). Thank you, Chairman Allen and Councilmembers, for the invitation to speak with you regarding the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS).
OAG previously testified before this Committee about our serious concerns with the validity of scientific testing at DFS, and with the reliability and completeness of information we received from DFS. At that time, OAG was so concerned that it had stopped using DFS for any of its scientific testing. DFS also had recently lost its accreditation. In outlining our concerns, we emphasized that our goal was to help chart a path forward and allow OAG to resume using DFS for its scientific testing. That remains our goal, and we are pleased to report that DFS, under its new leadership, appears to be taking important steps to enable us to reach that goal.
First, the executive has contracted with SNA International (SNA) to conduct an assessment of DFS’s operations and issue a report and recommendations for reform. We met with members of the SNA audit team to discuss our concerns. Representatives of SNA also met with the independent auditors OAG and the United States Attorney’s Office had hired to conduct our audit of the lab. That SNA included these interviews in its audit gives us optimism that the audit will be rigorous and comprehensive. We look forward to reading the report and are hopeful that SNA’s recommendations for reform will go beyond simply allowing DFS to regain its accreditation—an important but insufficient step—but rather will be designed to ensure accountability, integrity, and reliability at all levels of DFS.
We also recently met with DFS’s Interim Director Anthony Crispino and learned of changes he plans to implement to increase transparency and accountability at DFS. Director Crispino expressed an openness to working with my office to ensure we have confidence in the reliability of information we receive from DFS, and to implementing systems to increase information sharing. We are heartened by this meeting and look forward to working with him to ensure reforms are implemented that will instill confidence that we can rely on DFS consistent with our ethical and constitutional obligations in criminal and juvenile proceedings.
To ensure we have confidence in criminal convictions OAG already has secured, OAG plans to conduct a robust conviction review in cases where DFS examiners did scientific analysis. We are taking steps to recruit an individual who has experience with conviction integrity reviews to help OAG evaluate the types of cases that will require review, the time period of review, and the process necessary to ensure that juvenile respondents and adult criminal defendants get appropriate relief. This conviction review will likely be informed by the results of SNA’s assessment, the Office of the City Auditor’s audit, and the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of DFS. We look forward to obtaining those reports.
As we discussed when OAG last testified on this issue, the importance of implementing reforms at DFS cannot be overstated. At stake is the integrity of scientific evidence in the District’s most serious criminal cases, faith in the validity of criminal convictions, and public safety in the District of Columbia. And, of course, the District has taken just the first steps in ensuring DFS can be relied upon to provide valid scientific results. SNA’s report and recommendations must be comprehensive, and the recommendations must actually be implemented. Full implementation of
necessary reforms will take time, commitment, and leadership. But we are pleased with the steps that have been taken thus far and look forward to working with the DFS, the Council, and all stakeholders to develop a plan for reform that will allow OAG and the public to have confidence in the reliability of scientific testing at DFS.
Thank you for holding this roundtable and for inviting our office.