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Tuesday, October 4, 2005

W&L CrimProf Groot Appointed to Forensics Board

GrootrRoger D. Groot, Class of 1975 Alumni Professor of Law at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, has been appointed by Gov. Mark Warner to the newly formed Forensic Science Board. Created by legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Warner in 2005, the Forensic Science Board will establish policies, procedures and standards to guide the operations of the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, the state-run lab responsible for testing all evidence for law enforcement agencies throughout the state.

Virginia’s Department of Forensic Science (DFS) is a recognized international leader in this field. However, a recent audit by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB) did yield several recommendations to improve quality assurance at the DFS. The formation of the Forensic Science Board is one of several steps taken by the Warner administration to ensure that human error in evidence testing does not play a role in determining guilt or innocence.

“This is not about the science,” explained Groot. “Whether the evidence supports conviction or exonerates, the job has to be done right. People are going to make mistakes, but we have to make sure those mistakes don’t make it out of the lab.”

Responsibilities of the Forensic Science Board include establishing program standards and goals governing the operation of the DFS, ensuring that plans for the incorporation of new technologies are developed and reviewing budgets and appropriations requests from the DFS prior to their submission to the Governor.

Groot will begin his four year term Nov. 30, when the board meets for the first time to elect a chairman and vice chairman. Other appointees to the board are F.W. Howard Jr., sheriff of New Kent County, and S. Randolph Sengel, commonwealth’s attorney for the city of Alexandria. The appointees will be joined by other members installed by virtue of the office they currently hold, including the attorney general, the chief medical examiner, and the superintendent of the state police.

Roger Groot is former director of the Virginia Capital Case Clearinghouse, a trial-level legal aid clinic at the School of Law providing free services to defense attorneys who represent capital murder defendants in cases throughout Virginia. Groot is currently on leave from the School of Law and has just completed a federal death penalty trial in which the defendant was charged with interstate murder for hire. The defendant was convicted, but the government withdrew the death notice in the middle of the penalty phase. The defendant will be sentenced to life without parole.  [Mark Godsey]

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