Attorney General Kills Off Study Of DOJ's Highly-Flawed Forensic Practices And Evidence
from the better-many-innocent-people-be-jailed-than-we-not-look-tough-on-crime dept
Trump’s DOJ — led by Jeff Sessions — is rolling the clock back… on everything. Sessions has problems with the country’s interest in decriminalizing personal marijuana use. Weed has been a big moneymaker for the FBI and DOJ, and no one likes losing paying customers — especially not the private prisons that bad drug laws have kept full of taxpayer-supported “guests.”
He also wants to roll back the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division to the good old days. You know, before it actually existed and/or did anything about unconstitutional policing. Even though crime rates in most cities are still at historical lows, Trump and Sessions believe the country is under siege by violent criminals, who must be dealt with in the harshest, most expensive way.
Now, there’s this: Spencer Hsu of the Washington Post reports the DOJ will be reversing course on the junk science it so often refers to as “forensic science.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.
In a statement Monday, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a roughly 30-member advisory panel of scientists, judges, crime lab leaders, prosecutors and defense lawyers chartered by the Obama administration in 2013.
The DOJ’s reliance on sketchy forensic science has long been a problem — one the FBI even admitted to after its lab techniques and expert witness overstatements were examined by outside forensic scientists. Government “experts” were routinely overstating the “scientific certainty” of DNA matches of lab-tested evidence, resulting in the wrongful convictions of hundreds of people. The evidence given an appearance of authenticity by the government’s “experts” on the stand was anything but:
• a 2002 FBI re-examination of microscopic hair comparisons the agency’s scientists had performed in criminal cases, in which DNA testing revealed that 11 percent of hair samples found to match microscopically actually came from different individuals;
• a 2004 National Research Council report, commissioned by the FBI, on bullet-lead evidence, which found that there was insufficient research and data to support drawing a definitive connection between two bullets based on compositional similarity of the lead they contain;
• a 2005 report of an international committee established by the FBI to review the use of latent fingerprint evidence in the case of a terrorist bombing in Spain, in which the committee found that “confirmation bias”—the inclination to confirm a suspicion based on other grounds—contributed to a misidentification and improper detention; and
• studies reported in 2009 and 2010 on bitemark evidence, which found that current procedures for comparing bitemarks are unable to reliably exclude or include a suspect as a potential biter.
The committee reexamining the DOJ’s lab practices got off to a rocky start when a federal judge appointed to the committee resigned after it became apparent the DOJ wasn’t interested in seeing all of its junk science undone. The committee’s work continued, but the DOJ publicly stated it wouldn’t be changing much about how it handled forensic evidence. It would simply ask government witnesses to dial back their assertions of “scientific certainty.”
On the (formerly) bright side, the DOJ had been reviewing its forensic work, hopefully with the intent of improving it. That’s over now. Anyone involved with making the government’s forensic science better is being replaced with more “traditional” lab staffers who will make sure the government always wins.
A path to meet needs of overburdened crime labs will be set by a yet-to-be-named senior forensic adviser and an internal department crime task force, Sessions’s statement said.
So long, reexamination. Hello, “crime task force.”
This turns any examination of DOJ forensic science into a wholly internal affair. This confirms the conclusion Judge Rakoff came to when he resigned from the examination committee: the government wants its dubious evidence to remain unquestioned and its submitted evidence to be safe from examination by defense experts. “Trial by ambush,” as Judge Rakoff referred to it.
With Sessions’ latest move, the DOJ moves even further away from the word “justice.”
In suspending reviews of past testimony and the development of standards for future reporting, “the department has literally decided to suspend the search for the truth,” said Peter S. Neufeld, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which has reported that nearly half of 349 DNA exonerations involved misapplications of forensic science. “As a consequence innocent people will languish in prison or, God forbid, could be executed,” he said.
The move is, of course, being applauded by prosecutors. Eliminating any questioning of the DOJ’s forensic science and evidence allows them to obtain more convictions. The fact that the underlying evidence may be flawed doesn’t appear to matter. The National District Attorneys Association is completely behind a closed shop operation — one that allows the DOJ to start with conclusions and mold the “science” to fit its predetermined ends.