Crushing Blow to Criminal Justice Reform: DOJ Ordered to Halt Independent Review of Forensic Science
AG Sessions just gutted independent review of forensic science techniques used in the criminal justice system. This is a big story, so before I go further, let me give a little background.
Under the Obama Administration, the DOJ created a fantastic blue-ribbon commission of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors, and defense lawyers to review forensic science standards review the FBI’s use of questionable forensic science in criminal cases. So far this independent review body has brought to the forefront questionable (if not outright junk) sciences like bite mark analysis and shoe/tire tread matching. It’s also identified the forensic science of firearms tracing needed more review. It’s also released a number of well-respected best practice guides on things like eye witness identification, forensic interviewing of child witnesses, et cetera.
Well, now Attorney General Sessions has put a stop to all that independent review. From the Washington Post story:
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.”
That’s right, you read that correctly. Sessions is going away from the independent review lead by a panel of unbiased scientists as well as a balance of prosecutors and defense lawyers – with in-house law enforcement experts. You know, like the same law enforcement “experts” which have had no problem using all this junk science to lock innocent people up. That’s putting the fox in charge of security at the old hen house and congratulating yourself for a job well done.
Sessions’ next quote almost put me over the edge:
“’The availability of prompt and accurate forensic science analysis to our law enforcement officers and prosecutors is critical to integrity in law enforcement, reducing violent crime, and increasing public safety,’ Sessions said in the statement. ‘We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field.’”
You applaud them by shutting them down? And notice how the focus of the first two sentences is all tough-on-crime? The entire point to this review is to balance giving law enforcement (proper) tools to fight crime with ensuring those tools are based in sound science and are not misused so as to ensure justice for all. Instead Sessions is hamstringing any meaningful review and then bounding the lock ’em up, tough on crime drum.
This is disgusting. Just when we were starting to turn a page on criminal justice reform. I knew that this administration was going to do damage on the criminal justice front, but even I hadn’t seen something this vile on the horizon.