It was reported today that a scientist at Forensic Science Laboratory in Wakayama Prefectural Police Headquarters had been fabricating reports in criminal cases (Read the news in Japanese here and here). It was revealed that the scientist wrote up reports although he never tested the actual evidence, using his previous reports and copied charts from them. The Wakayama Prefectural Police had been looking into the case since July, after an accusation by fellow scientist.
The alleged scientist works in the chemical division of the lab, which handles the analysis of evidence such as drugs or vehicle paint left at the scene of a traffic accident. The police determined that there had been fabrication of reports in 8 cases between May 2010 through June 2012. These cases include cases involving death of victims and hit-and-run cases. However, the Wakayama Police Department is claiming that the impact of false evidence in actual cases was minimal.
If in fact the scientist had been fabricating evidence, he may face criminal charges. There might have been trials where the reports of the scientist’s “testing” results were introduced and admitted into as evidence. If so, it could be a reason for a retrial.
There have been several incidents of fabrication of evidence by police investigators recently. In Osaka, an officer fabricated results of alcohol testing during enforcement of drunk-driving. In Fukushima, officers lost cigarette butts left at the crime scene and logged in unrelated evidence in their place.
Each prefecture in Japan has its own Forensic Science Lab within its prefectural Police Headquarters. These labs conduct research for new methods of forensic investigative techniques, and work together with the police in everyday crime cases.
Since these labs are located within the police department, it is important to enhance their transparency and accountability. Check by groups of scientists, researchers, and other professionals from outside of the police department is crucial. The results of their testing should be scrutinized, subject to peer-review. Since the police has been focusing more on forensic science in recent years in Japan, national inquiry should be conducted on scientific accuracy on the testing done by these labs.
From this standpoint, it is problematic that the inquiry into this case is limited within Wakayama’s police department, and that the police headquarters concluded that the fabrication of reports had no impact on actual outcome of cases. A more detailed investigation should be done, bringing in external experts.