On April 10, members of the National Commission on Forensic Science heard the bad news, at their final two-day meeting in Washington, DC, from Andrew Goldsmith, a career Justice Department attorney: The commission’s charter was not being renewed by the new administration, reports Pema Levy.
Sessions, a former prosecutor and strong supporter of forensics, has long supported increased funding for crime labs so that police can get test results faster.
“For years, scientists and defense attorneys have fought an uphill battle to bring scientific rigor into a field that, despite its name, is largely devoid of science,” notes Levy.
In fact, the evidence that is presented in court rooms—for example, bite-mark, hair, and lead bullet analysis—and used by prosecutors “to convict and even execute defendants” writes Levy, is “actually incapable of definitively linking an individual to a crime,” while other methods, such as fingerprint analysis, are more subjective than experts publicly admit.
“In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) issued a landmark study that shook the field of forensics. Only nuclear DNA analysis, the report found, could ‘consistently, and with a high degree of certainty,’ link an individual to a crime,” Levy says.
The National Commission on Forensic Science, put in place by the Obama administration, has now been replaced by a new DOJ Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, established by executive order earlier this year, to “support law enforcement” and “restore public safety” — a task force, under Sessions’ auspices, that is interested primarily in increasing conviction rates for law enforcement rather than in ensuring that forensic “science” is indeed consistently held to scientifically rigorous standards.