With DC crime lab still sidelined, prosecutors say DEA to test drugs in local cases

Some of those drug offense cases that were backlogged after the DC Department of Forensic Sciences lost its accreditation last year could soon be addressed by the DC Superior Court under a new agreement with the DEA.

Federal prosecutors say the Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to perform drug testing in criminal cases in DC Superior Court, aiming to clear a backlog created after the DC Department of Forensic Sciences lost its accreditation last year and was forced to halt forensic casework.

The one-year agreement between the US Attorney’s Office for DC and the DEA was announced in a news release Monday.

Under the agreement, the DEA’s laboratories will be used to test suspected drugs in new cases as well as in dozens of cases now pending in DC Superior Court.

“Fentanyl and other dangerous narcotics are leading to hospitalizations and deaths in neighborhoods throughout our community,” said US Attorney Matthew Graves in a statement. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners to act against those who distribute and sell these drugs.”

In the statement, Graves thanked DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

“The DEA’s agreement to test suspected narcotics will enable us to prosecute cases more effectively and efficiently and to achieve justice for those accused of drug offenses,” Graves said.

The US attorney’s office previously relied on the DEA for drug analysis cases in local DC cases until 2018, when DFS’ Forensic Chemistry Unit began handling casework.

Last year, a national accreditation board first suspended and then withdrew its accreditation for DFS to perform forensic work for all disciplines — including DNA, ballistics, fingerprints and drug testing — following allegations of senior managers concealed conflicting findings in an ongoing murder trial.

In that case, firearms analysts erroneously concluded cartridge casings found at the scene of two 2015 shootings had been fired in the same gun. According to documents, an internal review later came to the opposite conclusion but was never disclosed outside the agency.

The head of the agency later resigned and other managers have been terminated.

A review commissioned by DC Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a report late last year recommending the District review all cases involving fingerprints and firearms handled by the lab going back to the time DFS was created as an independent crime lab in 2012.

DFS has contracts with private laboratories to handle DNA analysis casework and is relying on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to process firearms evidence.

The lab is aiming to seek reaccreditation for its DNA and chemistry units as early as this spring. Interim DFS Director Anthony Crispino has said the review commissioned by the mayor’s office turned up fewer problems in those units and they can more quickly return to handling casework.

Officials with the agency are expected to testify at a DC Council budget hearing on Thursday.

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