BILL ANALYSIS Ó SENATE COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC SAFETY Senator Loni Hancock, Chair A 2011-2012 Regular Session B 2 3 9 AB 239 (Ammiano) As Amended April 27, 2011 Hearing date: June 21, 2011 Penal Code MK:mc CRIME LABORATORIES: OVERSIGHT HISTORY Source: California Public Defenders Association Prior Legislation: AB 1079 (Richardson) - Chapter 405, Stats. 2007 Support: Unknown Opposition:Sheriff-Coroner of San Bernardino County Assembly Floor Vote: Ayes 79 - Noes 0 KEY ISSUE SHOULD THE CRIME LABORATORY REVIEW TASK FORCE BE RECONVENED TO SUBMIT A REPORT MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING A STATEWIDE OVERSIGHT BODY TO OVERSEE AND PERFORM TASKS RELATING TO CRIME LABORATORIES IN CALIFORNIA? PURPOSE (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 2 The purpose of this bill is to reconvene the Crime Laboratory Review Task Force to make recommendations regarding a statewide oversight body and to perform specified tasks relating to crime laboratories in California. Existing law requires the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish and chair the Crime Laboratory Review Task Force (CLRTF), comprising of representatives from DOJ, the California Association of Crime Laboratory Directors; California Association of Criminalists; International Association for Identification; American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors; Department of the California Highway Patrol; California State Sheriffs' Association, from a department with a crime laboratory; California District Attorneys Association, from an office with a crime laboratory; California Police Chiefs Association, from a department with a crime laboratory; California Peace Officers' Association; California Public Defenders Association; a private criminal defense attorney organization; the Judicial Council, to be appointed by the Chief Justice; Office of the Speaker of the Assembly; Office of the President pro Tempore of the Senate; and two representatives to be appointed by the Governor. (Penal Code § 11062(a) and (b).) Existing law requires the CLRTF to review and make recommendations as to best configure, fund, and improve the delivery of state and local crime laboratory services in the future. To the extent feasible, the review and recommendations shall include, but are not limited to, the following issues: With respect to organization and management of crime laboratory services, consideration of whether the existing mix of state and local crime laboratories is the most effective and efficient means to meet California's future needs; whether laboratories should be further consolidated, and who should have oversight; if some management for some laboratories should be transferred; whether all laboratories should provide similar services; and how other states have addressed similar issues; (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 3 With respect to staff and training, consideration of how to address recruiting and retention problems of laboratory staff; whether educational and training opportunities are adequate to supply the needs of fully trained forensic criminalists in the future; whether continuing education is available to ensure that forensic science personnel are up to date in their field of expertise; if crime laboratory personnel should be certified and if so, the appropriate agency to assume this responsibility; and the future educational role if any for the University of California or the California State University; With respect to funding, consideration of whether the current method of funding laboratories is predictable, stable and adequate to meet future growth demands and to provide timely and accurate testing results; and, the adequacy of salary structures to attract and retain competent analyst and examiners; and, With respect to performance standards and equipment, consideration of whether workload demands are being prioritized properly and whether there are important workload issues not being addressed; if existing laboratories have necessary capabilities, staffing and equipment; and if statewide standards should be developed for the accreditation of forensic laboratories, including minimum staffing levels; if so, a determination regarding what entity should serve as the sanctioning body. (Penal Code § 11062(c).): Existing law requires the CLRTF to seek input from specialized law enforcement disciplines, other state and local agencies, relevant advocacy groups, and the public. The final report also shall include a complete inventory of existing California crime laboratories. This inventory shall contain sufficient details on staffing, workload, budget, major instrumentation, and organizational placement within the controlling agency. (Penal Code § 11062(d).) (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 4 Existing law requires the CLRTF to submit a final report of its findings to the Department of Finance and the Budget and Public Safety Committees of both houses of the Legislature. (Penal Code § 11062(f).) This bill requires CLRTF to reconvene to prepare a supplemental report by July 1, 2013, which includes recommendations regarding the composition of a statewide body to oversee crime laboratories. This bill provides that the oversight body shall perform the following tasks: Implement federal legislation or guidelines imposed directly on crime laboratories or imposed indirectly as a requirement for receiving a grant; Oversee investigations into acts of misconduct or negligence committed by any employee or contractor of a crime laboratory; Collect data generated by investigations in order to determine the root causes of crime; Identify systemic failures and make recommendations for preventing future problems; Study methods to facilitate communication between laboratories and stakeholders and draft guidelines for disclosure and discovery of crime laboratory documents; and, Make recommendations to the Legislature and local governmental entities regarding the allocation of resources to crime laboratories throughout the state to ensure that taxpayers' funds are maximized and distributed in a more equitable manner. This bill states that the reporting requirements, as specified, are to be inoperative by July 1, 2017, and the report shall be submitted to the Legislature in compliance with provisions of the Government Code, as specified. This bill makes the following declarations: (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 5 The State of California has benefited from having a large number of publicly operated crime laboratories, some operated by the state and others by local government. The state is also served by a number of forensic units housed in local law enforcement agencies. Currently there is no statewide oversight of publicly operated crime laboratories in California. The Crime Laboratory Review Task Force was established by the Department of Justice and made recommendations to the Department of Finance and the Legislature regarding the role a statewide oversight body would play in California. The task force did not, however, make a recommendation regarding the composition of that oversight body. RECEIVERSHIP/OVERCROWDING CRISIS AGGRAVATION For the last several years, severe overcrowding in California's prisons has been the focus of evolving and expensive litigation. As these cases have progressed, prison conditions have continued to be assailed, and the scrutiny of the federal courts over California's prisons has intensified. On June 30, 2005, in a class action lawsuit filed four years earlier, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California established a Receivership to take control of the delivery of medical services to all California state prisoners confined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). In December of 2006, plaintiffs in two federal lawsuits against CDCR sought a court-ordered limit on the prison population pursuant to the federal Prison Litigation Reform Act. On January 12, 2010, a three-judge federal panel issued an order requiring California to reduce its inmate population to 137.5 percent of design capacity -- a reduction at that time of roughly 40,000 inmates -- within two years. The court stayed implementation of its (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 6 ruling pending the state's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 23, 2011, the United States Supreme Court upheld the decision of the three-judge panel in its entirety, giving California two years from the date of its ruling to reduce its prison population to 137.5 percent of design capacity, subject to the right of the state to seek modifications in appropriate circumstances.
In response to the unresolved prison capacity crisis, in early 2007 the Senate Committee on Public Safety began holding legislative proposals which could further exacerbate prison overcrowding through new or expanded felony prosecutions. This bill does not appear to aggravate the prison overcrowding crisis described above. COMMENTS 1. Need for This Bill According to the author: Criminal laboratories play an integral role in the criminal justice system, however cases of serious misconduct, neglect, and poor practices cast doubt and mistrust in criminal cases and the justice system. AB 239 seeks to address the critical need of statewide crime laboratory oversight in California to ensure that all criminal cases are handled fairly and appropriately. In 2010, San Francisco's criminal laboratory was hit with a scandal involving stolen drug evidence, contaminated DNA samples, destroyed records, and sample switching. This scandal alone prompted hundreds of narcotics cases to be thrown out or not charged because of possible evidence tampering, and the review of over (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 7 1,400 more for possible dismissal. While the charges of misconduct are shocking, they are not unique to San Francisco. In recent years, laboratories in Santa Clara and the Central Valley have had similar problems of stolen drug evidence, and misconduct. These cases raise serious red flags about the management, and integrity of criminal laboratories, which not only affects public perception of the criminal justice system, but also the numerous people who potentially might be wrongfully convicted due to serious neglect. AB 239 seeks to not only improve California's criminal justice system through an increased dialogue, but also garner public trust. By reinstating the Crime Laboratory Review Task Force, experts from the criminal justice, forensics, and law enforcement fields will have a voice in reviewing and making recommendations as to how to improve state and local crime laboratory services through the creation of a supplemental report that includes a proposal to establish a statewide body to oversee crime laboratories. Specifically, AB 239 provides the California Crime Laboratory Review Task Force be reconvened for the sole purpose of making recommendations by July 1, 2013, on how to best configure a state-wide oversight body whose responsibilities will include but not be limited to (1) implementing federal legislation and/or guidelines imposed directly on crime labs or indirectly as a requirement of accepting a grant; (2) oversee investigations into acts of misconduct or negligence; (3) collect data generated by investigations in order to determine root causes of misconduct or negligence; (4) identify systemic failures and make recommendations for preventing future problems (5) study means to facilitate communication between labs and stakeholders and draft guidelines for disclosure and discovery of crime lab (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 8 documents; and (6) make recommendations to the State Legislature and local governments regarding the allocation of resources to crime laboratories throughout the state to ensure that taxpayers' funds are not wasted and are distributed in a more equitable manner. In a 2007 bi-partisan effort, the Legislature created the California Crime Laboratory Review Task Force to review and make recommendations as to how to improve the delivery of state and local crime laboratory services for the future. (Pen. Code § 1106(c).) In November 2009, the Task Force issued an initial report that called for the creation of a state oversight or advisory body to review forensic science and crime laboratory issues, and that the specifics of this proposal, including the composition and functions of this body, would be described in a supplemental report published in one year of the initial report. Despite the growing problems in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Joaquin Counties' crime labs, the Task Force voted to terminate itself. Consequently, a follow up report was never produced. According to the Task Force's initial report, states across the nation, as many as 16 such as New York, Texas, Washington State, have created an entity charged with some degree of oversight responsibility over crime laboratories. While the scope of these entities ranges from make up to the purpose, they all are concerned about the challenges facing crime laboratories, and believe that crime laboratory oversight is essential in creating high quality forensics testing and a just criminal justice system. California must follow in suit. 2. Background AB 1079 (Richardson), Chapter 405, Statutes of 2007, established the California Crime Laboratory Review Task Force to review and make recommendations on how to improve the delivery of state and (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 9 local crime laboratory services in California. After issuing a report, the Task Force disbanded before making recommendations on an ongoing oversight body: ÝO]n June 3, 2010, a seemingly inexplicable thing happened. In the midst of the scandal in San Francisco that illustrates the importance of its work, certain members of the task force suddenly voted to disband. This is particularly surprising given that the task force itself, in a report issued only last November, called for the creation of a state oversight or advisory body to review forensic science issues and was authorized to continue deliberations up to one year (commencing in February 2010) regarding what type of advisory body would best meet the state's needs. Having neither completed this review nor issued any recommendations, the task force, by a majority vote, effectively terminated itself. The demise of the task force comes just over a year after the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel issued a scathing report for the overhaul of forensic science in the United States. The NAS report found that the entire disciplines of forensic sciences rest on deficient scientific foundations; that procedures routinely used for interpretation are lacking in rigor; that analysts routinely take inadequate measures to avoid error and bias; and that testimony is offered with unwarranted certainty. The NAS report found that these problems are systemic-rooted in the institutional structure of forensic science-and therefore called for sweeping changes in how forensic science is administered. The NAS report cited growing evidence that forensic science has contributed to wrongful arrests and convictions. There is no question that crime laboratories in California routinely engage in the very practices that NAS has challenged and that forensic scientists in California routinely testify in ways that NAS has condemned. As California's crime (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 10 labs struggle to address these longstanding problems, the need for advice and guidance is palpable. (Thompson, William and Friedman, Jennifer, "Statewide Oversight of Forensic Science Needed in California" Daily Journal, Perspective June 22, 2010.) The need for continued oversight and the ability to address continued problems by an oversight body or some other group that is made up of a balanced representation of scientists, lawyers, law enforcement and forensic science administrators was also expressed in a letter by four of the members of the Crime Laboratory Review Task Force, who did not vote to disband the Task Force, as well as by a letter from the Attorney General representative to the Task Force. (More) 3. Report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice was established by California State Senate Resolution No. 44, "to study and review the administration of criminal justice in California, determine the extent to which that process has failed in the past, examine safeguards and improvements, and recommend proposals to further ensure that the administration of criminal justice in California is fair, just, and accurate." In a February 20, 2007, report the Commission made a number of recommendations to address the problem of DNA testing backlogs, as well as other problems in California. These included: The DOJ should immediately ascertain the staffing levels required for the State Laboratory to reduce the backlog in DNA profiles to 30 days or less both now and when the future demands of Proposition 69 take effect. Emergency budget appropriations should be immediately introduced to provide state funding to staff the State Laboratory at the levels ascertained pursuant to the first recommendation. The California Attorney General should immediately commence consultation with state and local public laboratories, criminalists, law enforcement, prosecutor's offices, public defenders and private defense lawyers, victim representatives and judges to address the problems of DNA forensic technology resources in California. The following concerns should be urgently addressed: o Identify the nature and scope of current capacity problems, backlogs of unprocessed evidence and systems issues that impede utilization of DNA forensic technology to its fullest potential; o Identify the best practices that enhance collection and timely processing of DNA evidence to meet the needs of the criminal justice system; (More) AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 12 o Make recommendations for eliminating the current backlogs and preventing future backlogs of unprocessed evidence in state and local public laboratories; o Evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the current organization of resources in the State of California, to determine what strategies and systems will most effectively serve the needs of California; o Recommend strategies for training and educational programs to address the shortages of trained personnel to meet the staffing needs of crime labs; o Assess the impact of 'cold hits' upon local investigative, prosecution and defense resources; and, o Report to the Legislature and the Governor regarding the legislative or administrative steps that must be taken to ensure timely processing of evidence in California's criminal justice system. The Legislature and the Governor should provide adequate support to quickly respond to the needs identified by the Attorney General. (http://www.ccfaj.org/documents/reports/problems/officia l/Report%20on%20DNA%20Backlogs.pdf) 4. Further Statewide Oversight This bill reconvenes the Criminal Laboratory Review Task Force so that the Task Force can create a supplemental report to make recommendations regarding the composition of a statewide oversight body to oversee crime labs and perform specified tasks including implementing federal legislation and guidelines in order to be eligible for federal grants; collet data to determine root causes of crimes; identify systemic failures in crime labs in order to make recommendations to fix the problems and make recommendations to legislative bodies regarding the allocation of lab resources. AB 239 (Ammiano) Page 13 SHOULD THE CRIMINAL LABORATORY REVIEW TASK FORCE BE RECONVENED TO MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING AN OVERSIGHT BODY, AS WELL AS OTHER TASKS? 5. California Association of Criminalists The California Association of Criminalists recommends that this bill be amended to allow the Task Force "to make recommendations regarding both the functions and composition of a statewide body dealing with forensic issues." 6. Technical Amendment The appointment on page 3, line 4, by the President pro Tempore of the Senate needs to read instead, "The Senate Rules Committee." ***************