FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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.

September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail