(Lansing, MI – April 2, 2021) The Innocence Project, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, and the Michigan Innocence Clinic today recognized Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the State of Michigan for moving to create a task force on forensic science by executive order to strengthen forensic disciplines, recommend best practices, and investigate issues that may arise within crime labs.
“Misapplied forensic science has been a contributing factor in many proven wrongful convictions in Michigan,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, distinguished professor emeritus and counsel to the Cooley Innocence Project. “This executive order marks a major step towards both improving the quality of forensic science in Michigan, and also rebuilding trust in the criminal justice process and preventing future wrongful convictions on the basis of bad forensic science.”
The criminal justice system relies on forensic science in making determinations of life and liberty. If methodologies are not properly overseen, regulated, and updated according to the latest standards and science it can lend itself to wrongful convictions and harm public safety. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 131 wrongfully convicted people have been exonerated in Michigan, with 20% of the cases involving false or misleading forensic evidence as a factor that led to the wrongful incarceration.
“We are thrilled to hear that the Governor has established this critical task force and we look forward to working with task force members as they develop recommendations on how to ensure that outdated and misapplied forensic science does not continue to play a role in causing wrongful convictions,” said Dave Moran, co-founder and present co-director of the Michigan Innocence Clinic.
The cost of wrongful convictions is high, both emotionally and fiscally. In cases where an innocent person is wrongfully convicted, the real perpetrator often remains free and is able to commit additional crimes and jeopardize public safety. Michigan has paid nearly $8 million in settlements for cases involving flawed forensics and over $34 million through civil actions filed for wrongful convictions across the state. Changed standards and practices in the areas of arson, composite bullet lead analysis, and forensic odontology, amongst others, have garnered national attention and have spotlighted the need for a dedicated commission to oversee forensic science.
The Michigan Forensic Task Force will:
- Act in an advisory capacity to the Governor and Director of State Police.
- Review the state of forensic science in Michigan.
- Develop recommendations to strengthen forensic science methodologies and practices in the state and develop recommendations to improve the practice, delivery, and use of forensic science in Michigan.
- Develop recommendations for statewide protocols for disclosure of negligence or misconduct by employees at forensic science providers and develop recommendations for a process allowing members of the public to report alleged professional negligence or misconduct related to the practice or use of forensic science.
- Develop recommendations for a post-conviction notification procedure to notify parties affected by misconduct, negligence, or misapplication of forensic science.
- Develop recommendations for best practices for individuals who practice or apply forensic science in the criminal justice system.
- Develop a procedure for updating stakeholders on developments in forensic science.
- Issue findings by Dec. 31, 2021.