DC crime lab appears to regain partial accreditation after losing ability to process evidence in 2021

D.C. has been unable to fully utilize its crime lab since 2021, when, after months of scrutiny and evidence errors, the city’s Department of Forensic Sciences lost its accreditation to perform forensic testing. However, that problem appears to be entering the embattled agency’s rearview mirror.

The ANSI National Accreditation Board has returned accreditation to the department’s Forensic Biology Unit, which conducts DNA testing, and its Forensic Chemistry Unit, which performs drug testing, according to certificates posted by the board this week.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released a statement Tuesday in reference to the approval of the lab’s reaccreditation application:

“Responsible for testing and analyzing biological substances, including DNA, controlled substances and drugs, these reaccredited units will support MPD investigations and will add to our existing network of outside labs as well as those accessible by the U.S. Attorney. We remain focused on reducing crime and that means ensuring all parts of our public safety and justice ecosystem are working at full capacity. Reaccreditation is a critical step in supporting case closure and affording us another tool to advance justice for victims.”

The news comes just months after D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau highlighted improvements in the crime lab and a path to reaccreditation by 2024.

“I was really excited to learn that last month they filed for reaccreditation of the Forensic Biology and Forensic Chemistry Units, which helps us address crime and evidence here in the District of Columbia,” Nadeau said during a visit to the forensics department Thursday.

Previous details shared by DFS mirrored estimates for reaccreditation of the forensic biology and chemistry units by early 2024. The ballistic unit, which undergoes a similar process for recertification, has yet to see reaccreditation.

“It is unclear when the firearms unit will be reaccredited,” NBC Washington reporter Mark Segraves said Saturday evening.

WTOP was first to report that DFS had its accreditation suspended. Earlier this year, D.C.’s top prosecutor, U.S. Attorney for D.C. Matthew Graves, said the fallout was preventing his office from bringing charges against suspected offenders in some criminal cases.

Overall, prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office — the arm of the federal Justice Department tasked with prosecuting D.C. felonies — declined to bring charges in more than two-thirds of arrests made by D.C. police in 2022, according to data first reported earlier this year by the DC Crime Facts substack.

Graves said at a “crime summit” earlier this year that many of the cases his office couldn’t pursue involved drugs that DFS had lost accreditation to perform testing on.

“If we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspected substance is a drug, then we can’t prosecute,” Graves said. “That’s been a big part of the story.”

The lab, which is an independent D.C. agency with a director appointed by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, had its accreditation to perform forensic testing yanked not long after a scathing report from a team of experts hired by the city’s U.S. Attorney’s Office and attorney general’s office.

The group was hired to review the work of the DFS Firearms Examination Unit, after the discovery of a series of errors at the lab that incorrectly linked cartridge casings from two 2015 killings to the same gun. The experts’ report recommended the unit immediately cease its casework, citing “very serious” problems within the lab.

“We wholeheartedly agree with DFS’s decision to immediately begin work in the Forensic Biology Unit on resolving the significant CODIS backlog, which addresses an important public safety issue,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement to WTOP.

“Additionally, as an accredited lab, DFS will be able to hire essential experts and staff, enhance its quality assurance system, and further work towards ensuring its experts will be qualified for testing for criminal cases. We appreciate the commitment of DFS, under Dr. Diaz’s leadership, to transparency with our Office as DFS continues the rebuilding process. We believe that under his leadership DFS will take the additional steps that will be necessary for DFS personnel in these two forensic science units to be accepted by our courts as experts. Accreditation is an important mile marker in the journey towards having testifying experts again.  We look forward to DFS completing the journey in the coming years, and we are prepared to provide whatever support we can in these efforts,” the office said. 

WTOP’s Jack Moore and Thomas Robertson contributed to this report.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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