FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Forensic Science Evidence Trending Towards Less Reliable

In January 2016, bemoaning that “the more people talk about improving the use of forensic science in the courtroom, the more things stay the same,” I blogged in bold in The Huffington Post: “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.”

I opined: “Lawmakers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and forensic scientists, collaboratively working together to implement the reforms the [National Academy of Sciences] recommended, have to be the beacon of change.”

Eight months later, after then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch rejected a bevy of responsible reforms recommended by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), I argued in an oped published by The Hill and several other news outlets: “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.”

Instead of “beacons of change,” I observed that “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.”

Like many, still shell-shocked Americans, I never fathomed back then that Trump might actually become President, and that everything – and I do mean everything – including the reliability of forensic science evidence in the courtroom, was, and is, about to get worse.

You see, under Trump and his frenemy Sessions, instead of criminal justice stakeholders “working collaboratively” to implement sensible, long overdue reforms, reforms put forth by the brightest scientists, judges, and lawyers in the country – including developing standards for validating forensic methods, training forensic examiners, and making labs independent of police and prosecutors – an August 7th Wall Street Journal headline blared, “Jeff Sessions Scuttles Forensics Partnership With Scientists.”

Unconscionably putting gamesmanship in criminal litigation ahead of the uncontroversial and moral principle all good people can agree on – we don’t want innocent people to be convicted and locked up (much less, put to death) in this country – the  same Wall Street Journal piece notes that “[p]rosecutors notched a victory…over academics and defense attorneys in the long-running debate about what qualifies as sound crime-scene evidence versus ‘junk science’ used to wrongly convict defendants.”

No different than hungry children left alone with a whopping plate of cookies, or, greedy corporate raiders tasked with self-regulating excessive avarice, “[g]uidelines for the use of forensic evidence in court, previously developed by a partnership between the Justice Department and a panel of scientists, will now be spearheaded by a former state prosecutor who reports to the department’s top leadership.”

What will be the predictable result of this cynical, unjust, overly cozy, and faux regulatory regime? Forensic science evidence, which reputable judges (see conservative Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski’s “Rejecting Voodoo Science in the Courtroom”), lawyers, and experts across all scientific disciplines, have long agreed needs overhauling, is about to become even less reliable. What will remain unchanged? Innocent people will continue to suffer the consequences. Just more of them. Borrowing from our uber-ineloquent Commander-in-Chief’s cache of favored Twitter-catchwords: Sad!

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
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail