On March 28, 2017 the House Judicial Committee heard from 3 “stakeholders’ ” on numerous forensic science issues including the extreme costs of wrongful convictions (Illinois has paid out $253M between 1989 and 2013). One major item are the realities of prosecutors and some judges ignoring or unschooled on scientific principles and instead default to the myth that case law of prior acceptance should still dominant their decision making.
Stakeholder One: The Innocence Project
Excerpt on bitemarks:
The PCAST report, however, does dispel the notion that a court’s assessment of legal admissibility of a type of forensic evidence should be viewed as proof of its scientific validity. The use of bitemark analysis as evidence of identification has been discredited by numerous scientific studies and reports. 18 Since 2000, DNA evidence has exonerated 21 people whose convictions and 7 people whose indictments had been secured through the use of bitemark comparison evidence,19 two scientific panels have questioned the reliability of this evidence,20 and the Texas Forensic Science Commission has recommended a moratorium on the use of bitemark evidence in criminal courts until its validity and reliability can be established.21 The fact that bitemark evidence nonetheless continues to be admitted in U.S. criminal courts underscores why legal precedent should not be confused for scientific fitness, nor should a previous history of admission be the principal argument for the use of a class of scientific evidence.
Stakeholder Two: Forensic DNA pioneer Nora Rudin
Excerpt about Police control of forensic standards.
In general, I would like to proffer my view that creating a national Office of Forensic Science (OFS) within a law enforcement agency is a fundamentally bad idea. This would take us – both the forensic and legal communities – backwards, not move us forward. The proverbial cliché of the fox guarding the hen house is not inapplicable to such a situation.
Stakeholder Three: The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Excerpt about crime lab transparency and need to make forensic science independent of prosecutor control.
This Congress confronts a critical moment in the evolution of forensic evidence in the United States. After two scathing reports on the lamentable state of science in our criminal courts, progress has slowly begun to be made. The forces of positive change are not welcomed by all, however, and there are strong interests to return to the practices – most importantly, exclusive control of forensic science by law enforcement interests – that led the nation to undertake reform in the first place. Congress should reinforce and continue that forward momentum, not set it back.