I am thrilled to share that the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee just scheduled a markup for Senator Rockefeller’s S. 2022, The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014, on Wednesday, March 5th. A markup is a hearing of the full Senate Commerce Committee in which Senators debate, amend, and rewrite a bill and have the opportunity to take a vote to send it to the full Senate body for consideration.
The speed at which this bill is moving forward is exhilarating, but it leaves us with little time to express our support to the Committee. It is critical that the Commerce Committee see that there is broad support for this bill. Please consider sending an email of suppor t to Ann Zulkosky in Senator Rockefeller’s office at ( Ann_Zulkosky@commerce.senate.gov ).
Please let Sarah Chu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) know if you’ve decided to contact Senator Rockefeller’s office in order to track the flow of submitted messages.
Here is my submission supporting S. 2020. It outlines the strengths and reasons for action.
March 3, 2014
Dear Senator Rockefeller,
I am writing to express my support for S.202, The Forensic Science and Standards Act of 2014.
I have been a forensic expert in US criminal courts for 30 years in the areas of forensic dentistry and crime scene investigation. The 2009 NAS Report on Forensic Science quoted a number of my professional chapters and papers concerned with the lack of validation in some methods long accepted by our courts as “relevant.” Yet, they still are in use regardless of having aided wrongful convictions of defendants via systemic scientific deficiencies and accompanying erroneous forensic opinions. They also still exist because the NAS Report had no implementation statutes carrying it beyond squeezing out a forensic response I characterize as mostly platitudes by “forensic science stakeholders.”
Your Bill encompasses legitimate remedies for such judicial-approved convictions that resulted in personal tragedies (and wasted $). This must be corrected by active progress, not mere assurances (by some). My opinion parallels yours in that nation-wide implementation is at the heart of those remedies. Currently, the US has a myriad of mostly private orgs that maintain an internal surveillance on members and practices. As a contrast, one only has to see how our Canadian neighbors have standardized many of the forensic methods in use by their one national forensic and LEO org, the RCMP.
The strengths of your Bill, in my review, are underlined here:
This bill employs existing scientific agencies to develop and direct forensic science research, set and implement standards, and support the newly formed National Commission on Forensic Science.
I support this S. 02020 legislation because it will improve the quality, consistency, and reliability of forensic evidence, thus helping to better identify the guilty and prevent wrongful conviction of the innocent. Real perpetrators of heinous crime would not be ignored, resources and money would not continue to be wasted, and the millions spent on reimbursing the wrongfully convicted (easily over a $1,000,000,000 in my amateur estimate) would be minimized by your proactive measures.
Additional support for S. 2020 are the following.
FACT ONE: Forensic science has been found to be a leading contributor to wrongful convictions proven by post-conviction DNA testing, and
FACT TWO: The National Academy of Sciences’ report, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, found that there is a desperate need to improve the validity and scientific quality of forensic evidence. This legislation addresses those concerns.
FACT THREE: Forensic research is below any threshold level of adequacy. Yet it is a major cornerstone of our hugely expensive (and sometimes uncoordinated) criminal justice system.LEGITIMATE scientific research (not at third tier colleges) and tested standards (not totally developed by practitioner groups) makes equitable sense. The judicial “stakeholders” of judges and lawyers (who are typically not scientists), with the implementation produced by S. 2020, need to understand scientific limitations underlying the interpretations of the evidence they are considering when making determinations of innocence or guilt. I’m of the opinion that forensic disciplines (excepting DNA) has much too much “ipse dixit” in their rank and file which, though compelling to audiences, is often arbitrarily set by personal beliefs and a quiet agenda of “tough on crime” rather than “smart on crime.”
C. Michael Bowers DDS JD
Fellow, American Academy of Forensic Sciences
2284 S. Victoria Ave, Suite 1-G
Ventura, CA 93003
805 701 34024