President Trump’s Department of Justice has proposed a new Office of Forensic Science and Forensic Science Board within the DOJ. This new board would have governing authority over all of Michigan’s forensic labs, including the Toxicology lab located in Lansing. Nearly all drivers arrested for intoxicated driving and subjected to blood draws currently have their blood tested at this Lansing Toxicology lab. Consequently, this new change could impact more than 10,000 DUI cases each year in Michigan.
The new Department would be headed by a Director, who would be appointed by the President. The Director would report to the Attorney General. According to subsection b of the proposal, the mission of the new Forensic Science Division would be: to strengthen and promote the use of forensic science within the judicial system by supporting forensic science service providers, as they continually improve the validity, quality, and practice of forensic science through innovative solutions that focus on research and development, testing and evaluation, technology, information exchange, training, and capacity building for the forensic infrastructure.
One of the duties of the Director will be to work to ensure that appropriate accreditation, certification, standards, methods, best practices, and organizations exist for forensic disciplines.
The creation of this new Department could play a significant role in the defense of allegedly intoxicated drivers within the state. As it stands now, if a driver is arrested for drunk driving and later has his/her blood drawn, it will be sent to a toxicology lab in Lansing, Michigan. This lab is essentially self-policing because quality control and inspection at labs around the country involve forensic scientists from neighboring states. They are all in the same “club,” and as has been said, one hand washes the other, and this is not unlike the breath testing unit where only police officers or former police officers are involved in the quality control. With the Toxicology lab, there is no truly independent body that oversees quality control. This would presumably change very little with the new Federal Forensic Science Department because the quality control would still not be truly independent. It would remain a government function.
The proposal also suggests that the Department would coordinate with components of the Department of Justice to create and disseminate forensic science primers for federal, state, county, local and Tribal prosecutors; provide assistance for forensic science training within the Department of Justice and state, county, local, and tribal forensic science service providers; provide and maintain sections of USA Book and U.S. Attorneys’ Manual pertaining to forensic science.
Any change that increases quality control at the Michigan toxicology lab in charge of testing the blood of intoxicated drivers would be welcome. It remains to be seen if this new Department will be a step in that direction, or instead, just add another layer of bureaucracy that makes it easier for the Toxicology lab to hide the truth, and another layer of difficulty to obtaining meaningful criminal discovery.