07.31.14

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On Senate Consideration of the Justice for All Reauthorization Act of 2013

Last week I came to the floor to talk about the FBI’s extensive use of flawed evidence in thousands of cases.  It is tragic just days later there is yet another scandal involving bad science used to send people to jail, and some to death row. 

According to an internal investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice, nearly 2,600 convictions and 45 death-row cases from the 1980s and 1990s may have involved flawed forensic evidence.  Specifically, these cases involved microscopic hair matches, a form of forensic science that has been discredited.  The scope of this scandal, which is the focus of a front page article in the Washington Post yesterday, goes well beyond the problems we have previously seen when it comes to forensic evidence.  Even more troubling than the statistics outlined in the Post’s story is that the FBI, after recognizing these egregious mistakes, stopped their full review after examining just a small fraction of these cases. The Department of Justice has rightly ordered the FBI to resume its internal review, but the FBI’s conduct is inexcusable.

Once again, we are reminded that our criminal justice system is not infallible and that we are all less safe when the system fails. FBI investigators should have redoubled their efforts to uncover these mistakes and rushed to tell those affected defendants. Instead it appears they dragged their feet and stopped their review. I intend to get to the bottom of this. I have a lot of questions for the bureau, and I will not stop until they are answered.

When we have evidence that could prove that someone is innocent, we must get it processed immediately.  It is not only the right thing to do for that person wrongfully accused but it is the right thing to do to keep our communities safe.  That is why I again urge the Senate to take up and pass the Justice for All Reauthorization Act, a bill I introduced with Senator Cornyn last year.  This bipartisan legislation includes the Kirk Bloodsworth Post Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program, named for the first person exonerated from a death row crime through the use of DNA evidence.  This program seeks to correct these most grievous mistakes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a cosponsor of the bill.  All Senate Democrats support passage of this legislation. There is no reason why the Senate should not take up and pass this important bill without further delay. 

I also will continue my efforts to pass common sense forensic science reform legislation.  The Criminal Justice and Forensic Science Reform Act that I introduced earlier this year with Senator Cornyn would improve the use of forensic science in criminal cases and ensure that labs throughout the nation are operating according to the highest scientific standards. 

I thank the many law enforcement, victim services and criminal justice organizations that continue to highlight the need for reform to ensure the proper application of forensic evidence in criminal cases, and who have urged the Senate to pass the Justice for All Reauthorization Act.

I ask that the Washington Post article by Spencer Hsu be entered into the Record, and I urge all Senators to join me in getting to the serious business of providing justice to the wrongfully convicted and passing the Justice for All Reauthorization Act.

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