Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement that the Department of Justice will not renew the charter for the National Commission on Forensic Science, New York Times Columnist Jim Dwyer published a critical piece examining how the decision puts a hard and fast stop to criminal justice reform that is desperately needed in this country.
Dwyer explains that there are numerous forensic practices on which law enforcement has long relied–practices which “resembled science but turned out to be more like magic, and untrustworthy evidence, he writes. The purpose of the National Commission on Forensic Science, which was created four years ago under the Obama administration, was to “take stock of investigative practices that had become embedded in the American criminal justice system,” says Dwyer, but “[t]hose reform efforts appear to have lost their momentum.”
Dwyer goes on to explain:
In announcing that the commission was coming to an end, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his department would take unspecified actions to “increase the capacity of forensic science providers” and improve the reliability of analysis.
Yet there are many unresolved questions about which forensic practices even qualify as science and ought to be admitted as evidence. “If you want to put in a nutshell what’s wrong with some of these forensic sciences, it’s that they’re not really science at all,” said Jed S. Rakoff, a federal judge in New York who served on the commission. “They are suggestive techniques, based on some subjectivity.”
. . . . Mr. Sessions did not announce any plans to conduct the recommended validation studies. Judge Rakoff said the value of the commission was that it included independent scientists, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges, and people from crime laboratories.
“It’s one thing to expose the shortcomings and another thing to try to bring everyone on board to find ways to mitigate them,” he said.
Read Dwyer’s entire column here