Following a 35 -- 4 vote in the House, Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 241 into law today setting up the Division of Forensic Science to take over the operations previously conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The bill, which was approved by the Senate 18 -- 2 earlier this month, reorganizes the forensic sciences in a new Division within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security. The bill also establishes a Forensic Science Commission to provide important oversight and assistance to the office.
"Forensic science is at the core of our work in the criminal justice system," said Governor Markell. "This legislation will help us create a structure for forensic science that can support the criminal justice community in a way that is expert, timely, professionally independent, and accountable. I would like to thank Senator Marshall, Senator Hall-Long, Rep. Barbieri, and Rep. Mitchell for their leadership in helping us take this important step to improving the operations of this important office."
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington), Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D- Middletown), Rep. John Mitchell (D-Elsmere) and Rep. Mike Barbieri (D-Newark) will create a new division director to head the forensic science operation. The Forensic Science Commission will include representatives of law enforcement, forensic science experts, a prosecutor, a public defender and heads of the state Health and Homeland Security agencies.
"This is a modernization of a state agency that we've come to find is necessary and long overdue," said Rep. Barbieri, who chairs the House Health and Human Development Committee. "This legislation creates a new framework for the important jobs done by the medical examiner, with a much improved level of oversight and accountability."
"We place a tremendous amount of trust in the hands of the medical examiner's office in our criminal justice system, and we need to know that our trust will be repaid in the form of thorough, professional work," said Rep. Mitchell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. "The changes being proposed will ensure that we get what we expect from a state crime lab and the individuals appointed to run it."
The Commission would have oversight of the Division of Forensic Science, including review of its operations, staffing and resource needs, quality assurance, evidence protocols, responsiveness to the criminal justice community, accreditation and audit needs, and maintenance of the professional independence of its expert staff. The Commission would also consider whether additional changes in the structure or the organization of forensic sciences in Delaware would be more efficient or make the office more effective.
"Senate Bill 241 answers the question Delawareans have been asking since this February when the scandal at the Medical Examiner's Office was revealed: "Who is in charge?'" Marshall said. "That answer is the new division and the new director."
"I think this bill responds to concerns that the division's independence might be threatened by creating an oversight board to set up procedures and ensures that it can operate without undue influence," Hall-Long said. "I think the overwhelming support this this measure received in the House and Senate will go a long way to reestablishing public confidence."