FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Corrupted Evidence: How the Department of Justice is Blocking Forensic Evidence Reform

Compassionate Americans concerned about the plight of wrongfully convicted citizens – folks who want our criminal justice system to operate fairly and accurately – should be outraged by the Department of Justice’s pigheaded rejection of fundamental, far-reaching forensic science evidence reform.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), is comprised of the nation’s best and brightest scientists. PCAST “makes policy recommendations in the many areas where understanding of science, technology, and innovation is key to strengthening our economy and forming policy that works for the American people.” Just last week, this august body issued a comprehensive 174-page report called, “Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods.”

Alex Kozinski, a conservative judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (appointed by President Reagan in 1985), wrote in a sober, strongly-worded op-ed for The Wall Street Journal (“Rejecting Voodoo Science in the Courtroom”) that the PCAST report “examines the scientific validity of forensic-evidence techniques – DNA, fingerprint, bitemark, firearm, footwear and hair analysis. It concludes that virtually all of these methods are flawed, some irredeemably so.” Kozinski counsels: “The PCAST report recommends developing standards for validating forensic methods, training forensic examiners and making forensic labs independent of police and prosecutors. All should be swiftly implemented.”

Brushing Kozinski and PCAST off as if they were aggressively pushing fattening Girl Scout cookies – instead of recommendations designed to make sure only the guilty are convicted of crimes – Attorney General Loretta Lynch demurred. Lynch said, while “we appreciate their contribution to the field of scientific inquiry, the department will not be adopting the recommendations related to the admissibility of forensic science evidence.”

Sadly, Lynch’s nonsensical knee-jerk rejection of PCAST’s recommended forensic science reforms (a position also ludicrously adopted by the National District Attorneys Association) is nothing new under the sun. It’s déjà vu. The failure to implement critical forensic science evidence reforms (recommended by the country’s top experts) dates back at least to 2009, when the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued its groundbreaking report called, “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”

The NAS report’s conclusions, as described in an article by longtime federal district judge turned Harvard law professor, Nancy Gertner, presaged PCAST’s: “It questioned whether the underlying research justified the claims forensic scientists were regularly making in courts throughout this country, claims that they had been making for decades.”

Back in January, in a blog for The Huffington Post called, “D.C. Judge Rejects Junk Science But The Law Is Slow To Follow,” I wrote:

“Not nearly enough steps have been taken (in the District of Columbia, or I respectfully submit, across the country) to address the reliability problems that continue to plague forensic science in the courtroom – problems identified way back in 2009 by the highly respected NAS report.”

To improve the use of forensic evidence in the courtroom, I observed that

“[l]awmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and forensic scientists, collaboratively working together to implement the reform the NAS report recommended, have to be the beacon of change.”

Fast-forward eight months. Instead of “beacons of change,” prosecutors remain obstinately mired in the unscientific and error-prone past. Their stubborn unwillingness to improve our justice system by repetitively refusing to adopt recommended scientific reforms will result in additional murky criminal convictions marred by faulty forensic evidence.

Innocent people will continue to suffer the consequences.

 

More articles by:

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California.

Weekend Edition
July 10, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Lynnette Grey Bull
Trump’s Postcard to America From the Shrine of Hypocrisy
Anthony DiMaggio
Free Speech Fantasies: the Harper’s Letter and the Myth of American Liberalism
David Yearsley
Morricone: Maestro of Music and Image
Jeffrey St. Clair
“I Could Live With That”: How the CIA Made Afghanistan Safe for the Opium Trade
Rob Urie
Democracy and the Illusion of Choice
Paul Street
Imperial Blind Spots and a Question for Obama
Vijay Prashad
The U.S. and UK are a Wrecking Ball Crew Against the Pillars of Internationalism
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post and Its Cold War Drums
Richard C. Gross
Trump: Reopen Schools (or Else)
Chris Krupp
Public Lands Under Widespread Attack During Pandemic 
Alda Facio
What Coronavirus Teaches Us About Inequality, Discrimination and the Importance of Caring
Eve Ottenberg
Bounty Tales
Andrew Levine
Silver Linings Ahead?
John Kendall Hawkins
FrankenBob: The Self-Made Dylan
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Deutsche Bank Fined $150 Million for Enabling Jeffrey Epstein; Where’s the Fine Against JPMorgan Chase?
David Rosen
Inequality and the End of the American Dream
Louis Proyect
Harper’s and the Great Cancel Culture Panic
Thom Hartmann
How Billionaires Get Away With Their Big Con
REZA FIYOUZAT
Your 19th COVID Breakdown
Danny Sjursen
Undercover Patriots: Trump, Tulsa, and the Rise of Military Dissent
Charles McKelvey
The Limitations of the New Antiracist Movement
Binoy Kampmark
Netanyahu’s Annexation Drive
Joseph G. Ramsey
An Empire in Points
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
COVID-19 Denialism is Rooted in the Settler Colonial Mindset
Ramzy Baroud
On Israel’s Bizarre Definitions: The West Bank is Already Annexed
Judith Deutsch
Handling Emergency: A Tale of Two Males
Michael Welton
Getting Back to Socialist Principles: Honneth’s Recipe
Dean Baker
Combating the Political Power of the Rich: Wealth Taxes and Seattle Election Vouchers
Jonah Raskin
Edward Sanders: Poetic Pacifist Up Next
Manuel García, Jr.
Carbon Dioxide Uptake by Vegetation After Emissions Shutoff “Now”
Heidi Peltier
The Camo Economy: How Military Contracting Hides Human Costs and Increases Inequality
Ron Jacobs
Strike!, Fifty Years and Counting
Ellen Taylor
The Dark Side of Science: Shooting Barred Owls as Scapegoats for the Ravages of Big Timber
Sarah Anderson
Shrink Wall Street to Guarantee Good Jobs
Graham Peebles
Prison: Therapeutic Centers Or Academies of Crime?
Zhivko Illeieff
Can We Escape Our Addiction to Social Media?
Clark T. Scott
The Democrat’s Normal Keeps Their (Supposed) Enemies Closer and Closer
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
In 2020 Elections: Will Real-Life “Fighting Dems” Prove Irresistible?
David Swanson
Mommy, Where Do Peace Activists Come From?
Christopher Brauchli
Trump the Orator
Gary Leupp
Columbus and the Beginning of the American Way of Life: A Message to Indoctrinate Our Children
John Stanton
Donald J. Trump, Stone Cold Racist
Nicky Reid
The Stonewall Blues (Still Dreaming of a Queer Nation)
Stephen Cooper
A Kingston Reasoning with Legendary Guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith (The Interview: Part 2)
Hugh Iglarsh
COVID-19’s Coming to Town
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail