COMMENTARY: "Sessions Is Wrong to Take Science Out of Forensic Science," by Erin E. Murphy, published by The New York Times on April 11, 2017. (Erin E. Murphy, a professor at New Yor)k University School of Law, is the author of “Inside the Cell: The Dark Side of Forensic D.N.A.”
GIST: "Prosecutors applauded the April 10 announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Department of Justice was disbanding the nonpartisan National Commission on Forensic Science and returning forensic science to law enforcement control. In the same statement, Mr. Sessions suspended the department’s review of closed cases for inaccurate or unsupported statements by forensic analysts, which regularly occur in fields as diverse as firearm and handwriting identification, and hair, fiber, shoe, bite mark and tire tread matching, and even fingerprinting analysis. If all you knew about forensic science was what you saw on television, you might shrug off this news, believing that only the most sophisticated and well-researched scientific evidence is used to solve and prove crimes. But reality is different. D.N.A.-exoneration cases have exposed deep flaws in the criminal justice system’s use of forensic science. Reforms have not come easy, but slow and plodding progress has been made. In 2005, the F.B.I. said that it would no longer conduct bullet-lead examinations after a review panel found matches essentially meaningless. A blue-ribbon panel of the National Academy of Sciences raised the same concern in a 2009 report that found nearly every familiar staple of forensic science scientifically unsound. Prompted in part by that report, the Justice Department initiated a review of thousands of cases involving microscopic matching of hair samples. In 2015, the F.B.I. announced its shocking initial findings: In 96 percent of cases, analysts gave erroneous testimony. At a meeting last spring of the commission that Mr. Sessions just disbanded, the department said it would expand the view to include a wider array of forensic disciplines. With the announcement by Mr. Sessions, this momentum comes to a screeching halt. .........The loss of an even partially independent national commission is no trivial matter. In its brief two years of existence, it drafted 43 standards that actually changed forensic science, on the ground, for the better. The commission’s guidance covered issues like certification requirements for forensic examiners (who, unlike your local manicurist or food server, typically must not pass any basic competency exams still), discovery rules (providing criminal defendants with at least some of what parties receive in civil cases) and reporting standards (discouraging the use of the popular phrase “reasonable degree of scientific certainty” as it has “no scientific meaning and may mislead fact-finders”). The National Commission on Forensic Science was even poised to issue a raft of best practices for the wild west of digital forensics, which has exploded without supervision over the years. It seemed that a promising new era of accuracy, transparency and accountability in forensic science had dawned. There are jurisdictions and even prosecutors committed to meaningful forensic reform, but none with the resources, expertise and authority of the commission. And so long as forensic science is under Department of Justice control, reformers will be cut off from the primary purse for scientific research and setting best practices. We know what happens when prosecutors and police officers control forensic science, instead of scientists. We have already lived through an embarrassing parade of wrongful conviction, tragic incompetence, laboratory scandal and absurdly unsupported forensic findings. We have commissioned the studies, read the reports. They brought us to the place we are now, at the cusp of something better. Sadly, with the flick of one prosecutor’s self-interested pen, that vision is now gone."
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: http://www.thestar.com/topic/