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.


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 10:53am

    Can this help the defense in any way?

    Is there an argument the defense can make? Maybe prosecution not meeting their burden of proof if the science is flawed?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:03am

      Re: Can this help the defense in any way?

      Since it's now a fully internal system that is producing the results, how can the defense argue when the prosecution and/or lab reviews and says 'burden met'?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:44am

      Re: Can this help the defense in any way?

      Junk science is mainly used to force plea agreements. They throw all kinds of "sciency" "evidence" at someone, tell him if he cops a plea he'll do two years, if they convict him of everything "they could", he'll do 40 years or more.

      Bad Public Defenders usually push for the plea.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldMugwump (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:41pm

        Re: Re: Can this help the defense in any way?

        If that's *all* they did with the junk science, I'd have no objection.

        Lying about having lots of incriminating evidence to force a confession is the oldest trick in the book. The idea is that the guilty will cave, while the innocent will know it's BS.

        It's when they bring the junk science into the courtroom that I have a problem.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:50am

      Re: Can this help the defense in any way?

      ALL evidence presented is subject to scrutiny by the defense.

      If they put ANY kind of labwork and "interpretation" of such (One in a Gazillion garbage), the Defense has a right to have the SAME SAMPLE tested at private labs, and rebuff the prosecution's findings.

      The standards for being an "Expert Witness" are extremely low. Anyone with a passing knowledge of the subject in question can become one. Then it's up to the other side to ruin his/her credibility in cross examination.

      The real problem isn't the junk science. It's that the Prosecution has virtually unlimited resources. Running hair, blood, spit DNA effectively costs the Prosecution *nothing*. Running it on the defense side at two labs to "over-expert" the prosecution will cost about as much as a house in a good neighborhood.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    John Cressman, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:04am

    No problem

    I see no problem with this. After all, if the FBI is prosecuting you, you MUST be guilty.

    /sarcasm off

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:06am

    "Eliminating any questioning of the DOJ's forensic science and evidence allows them to obtain more convictions."

    When your goal has ceased to be 'justice' then it's only natural this kind of bs is allowed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    I.T. Guy, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:09am

    Every. Day. I read something that makes me go... WTF!? What the hell are they(Republicans) fuking doing?

    They will be hence known as the WTF!?!? Administration.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:16am

      Re:

      Thought the same about the last administration as well.

      The difference between you and me... I am not a sheep of the republican party like you are for the democrat party.

      If all you need is a little study to calm you from a bunch of sanctimonious democrat rhetoric then by all means, keep doing what you are doing.

      This problem is not republican or democrat, it is a national one. The injustices that occur in this administration are the same as the last 3 with only some minor differences that you need to act out upon like they are somehow major. Innocents are still in jail, police still murder indiscriminately, citizens still vote in corrupt politicians with their only real difference in being their "style" of lying to the citizens. If the style of the lie is what is important to you then just flip a fucking coin when you vote, you will get the same guy anyway! Bush, Obama, Trump, and Hillary are not very different from each other, they just believe in different avenues of asserting their superiority over people like you!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:34am

        Re: Re:

        STFU idiot. You know not if I am an R or D, or neither.
        These idiots are like rabid dogs going after a scrap of food. They couldn't wait to come in and repeal shit and bomb shit, run crap like a dictator. These fukers make BushCo. look like Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs.

        The difference is at least the D's throw you a bone here and there. The R's chew you to the bone and spit you out.

        "The injustices that occur in this administration are the same as the last 3 with only some minor differences"
        That's not really making your case as this admin hasn't even gone through a fiscal quarter yet and if the small amount of time passed is any indication of the future then the next 3.5 years will be worse than the past 8 years combined.

        The WTF!?!? Administration will ensure 2 things next election:
        1. Record voter turnout.
        2. A Democrat will get elected.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:01pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          That is where you are greatly mistaken.
          When you specifically point out one of the two sides for a sin both are equally guilty of you make it clear about which side you are on.

          You are a lost puppy, but you are free to wear a big shiny D on your face while telling others that you are not a member. Just don't act surprised when people walk around you snickering.

          "The WTF!?!? Administration will ensure 2 things next election:
          1. Record voter turnout.
          2. A Democrat will get elected."

          Possible, we still might get another round of this shit, never underestimate peoples ability to fuck this shit up... I mean look in the fucking mirror for proof!

          I also said this about the Obama administration. I have been here on this very forum and others stating that each parties participation in power will result in people flocking to vote in the other after they get tired of the bullshit in complete fulfillment of George Washington's prophecy if we need sticking to these fucking party systems.

          Have you got a clue yet? You are right that Trump will create a strong push to the democrats side, but Trump got in because of Obama for the same reasons, just in the opposite direction. Enjoy the ebb and flow! It's going to be getting a bit more vigorous and I am betting you will be here to ensure it!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            I.T. Guy, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:58pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            "When you specifically point out one of the two sides for a sin both are equally guilty of"
            You're intellectually lost. The whole point that you avoid here is the acceleration at which Repubs like to fuck shit up, apparently.
            "both are equally guilty of"
            That's a laugh. You didn't see the Dems going around repealing consumer protections like it was going out of style. Just for you cupcake... I am going to register as a D. For the lulz.Becauses the all knowing anon on the intertubes knows I am a D. Idiot buffoon.

            You are a legend in your own mind there little fellah.
            Is your name wiLLie by any chance? ( Or Wilbert or Wilbur the three?) LOL, you act just like someone I "know."

            Why won't you sign in as whatevernoticed anymore?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 1:29pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              "You didn't see the Dems going around repealing consumer protections like it was going out of style."

              No, they just tell you what you want to hear, so you will love them and vote for them, then do something else instead. It's and old gag and I find it sad you have not figured this out yet.

              One of the big platforms of the Democratic Party is that they are for the little man, yet they wheel and deal with the rich elite, they are members of the rich elite, and create policies that serve the rich elite.

              Did you notice that the wage gap only got wider under Obama?
              Did you notice that minorities suffered more under Obama?
              Did you notice that minorities still got screwed in the legal system under Obama the same as under Bush?

              No wait...

              I keep forgetting, facts don't work here. My apologies, carry on!

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 2:54pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                I hate them both. But I hate the ignorent, vicious bible-bashing reps more than the lying, thieving wall street puppet dems.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  JEDIDIAH, 12 Apr 2017 @ 9:50am

                  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

                  You're still playing favorites and rightly being eviscerated for it. A lot of the same sh*t happened during the last administration but people gave it a blind eye. You didn't hear about it or it just plain got excused.

                  This measure itself didn't appear until Obama's 2nd term.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        The Wanderer (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:35am

        Re: Re:

        There's no such thing as the "Democrat Party", or "Democrat rhetoric", et cetera; the word is "Democratic", or sometimes "democratic".

        The use of "Democrat" as an adjective (outside of certain limited contexts where nouns work as adjectives, such as "Democrat Elizabeth Warren", where it's a shorthand for "member of the Democratic Party") is a red-flag indicator that either the speaker is not familiar with the usage of English grammar, or the speaker is accustomed to contexts which have a distinct right-wing bias.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:04pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          "There's no such thing as the "Democrat Party"

          Does that offend you? good!
          You will pair nicely with the Republic Party, as history has recently shown.

          We can play this stupid game all day Mr. Butt Hurt!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:18pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Throwing in nonsense after the fact doesn't erase your previous dog whistle, you know.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Thad, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Don't feed. Flag and move on.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
                identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:41pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Remember when people warned about fact news and TD community trying to create an echo chamber?

                If keep flagging everything you hate then you only wind up taking away from yourself because people with information will just go somewhere else leaving you with less information.

                O wait, being lesser informed is what you have been after all along... please continue! It's working out so well that Trump got elected! Keep up the good work!

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            The Wanderer (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 1:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Sorry, that's not how the language works. A republic is a form of government, or a nation (ostensibly) under that form of government; the equivalent noun would be "democracy", not "Democrat".

            The adjective for "republic" is "republican", and the noun for "member of the Republican Party" is "Republican".

            The adjective for "democracy" is "democratic", and the noun for "member of the Democratic Party" is "Democrat".

            The names of the parties are derived from descriptive adjectives which evolved differently over the course of linguistic history, and they take different forms when conjugated. Trying to force otherwise for parallelism is pointless.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:26pm

        Re: Re:

        "Both sides are the same" is only said by people who don't pay attention.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:47pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-ed-charley-reese-545-people-1984-073111-story.html

          No, it is stated by people with wisdom and have the mental faculties to look past the surface you are enamored with.

          Most people like it when a leader has a nice voice and can write nice sounding speeches, sure I get that it motivates the spirit, but there are a number of historical records were dirt bags were able to get many people like yourself to go to war for them.

          Sorry, I refuse to become a fool for the sake of political expediency and inclusion.

          Both parties trash talk each other and wind up taking advantage of the powers the other party put in place. Take the republicans recent attempt to hijack the ACA/Obamacare. They all sure did like to pander to their voters by tossing up weak and symbolic repeals, but when they finally got into power... what happened then?

          yea... totally the same "IF" you have wisdom.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:52pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          They're both exactly the same when you look at how much they lie to us and try to obfuscate their true intentions. But since you're paying such close attention, tell us which party we should vote for next time. (Hint: it's a trick question)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          The Wanderer (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 1:38pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The two major factions (there are not, ultimately, only two "sides") are certainly far too similar in far too many ways.

          They are also certainly not exactly the same, and the differences which do exist are certainly still meaningful.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:41am

    Yup we're still slipping into totalitarianism (and it seems to be accelerating). Hold on to your butts, folks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 11:56am

    Jeff Sessions is known for using the law as a political tool, so it does not surprise me he's unwilling to give up anything from his arsenal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Median Wilfred, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:21pm

    How is this American?

    How can someone sworn to uphold the law, AND defend the US Constitution do this kind of stuff? Also, how can anyone interested in working law enforcement and good goverance do this?

    If there's indications of problems in the way we (USA) determine guilt, then shouldn't we spend some time looking into those indications? Locking people up isn't the be-all and end-all of The Law, after all. Incarcerating the wrong folks leads to widespread distrust of all laws, which leads to difficulty enforcing the laws. Incarcerating the wrong people leads to distrust of government in general, which will cause distrust of judicial and legislative branches, leading to troubles governing effectively.

    This kind of action always puzzles me. I'm not a lawyer, and it's obvious to me we should follow up on these issues. But no, our officials would rather go with arbitrary enforcement and militarized policing. WTF?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 12:54pm

      Re: How is this American?

      Because we Americans asked for this.

      Many will lie and tell you that they did not, but we all did.

      Every nation gets the government it deserves, because we voters have allow the party system to override our sanity and pit us against one another.

      Everything a Democrat does is seen as bad by Republicans and vice versa. The parties make it appear that they cannot reconcile on the surface, but behind closed doors they are in lock step with each other over the destruction of your liberty.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 1:09pm

    Absolutely! We need access and the ability to collect and compel production of even greater amounts of potential "evidence", and remove all obstacles which make it slightly more difficult for us. We also need to continue manufacturing crimes wholesale. But heaven forbid we actually process, examine, and test any such potential evidence properly, keeping in mind what evidence is actually for, and trying to reach the closest approximation of the truth and serve justice by stopping guilty persons from further bad acts. And just what would you have us do about parallel construction, lying to the courts, exceeding our investigative authorities, and withholding evidence (of any quality) from the defense?

    You would so hamstring law enfarcement? Look, you are at risk. Either from criminals, or us (and the actual criminals we don't catch because we put someone else away for the crimes.) Take your pick. Choose wisely, citizen. Choose. Wisely...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2017 @ 2:48pm

    Facism is the victory of the stupid and vicious.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 3:29pm

    Trump and Sessions believe the country is under siege by violent criminals,

    It IS! Unfortunately, these violent criminals tend to be the police themselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    discordian_eris (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 5:04pm

    He and Hoover have way too much in common. How long till reports come out that Sessions also dresses in drag? Although considering his own proclivities, I'll lay heavy odds he dresses like Aunt Jemima.

    "I'se in town honey!"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Apr 2017 @ 9:29pm

    How dare you challenge what we say.

    We say weed is bad & will destroy the youth.
    Pay no attention to the real life examples of this not coming to pass... we saw Refer Madness, we know the truth.

    We say that our expert with divining rods can accurately find the killer.
    Pay no attention to the fact he always points at who we tell him to point at, this is science.

    Our system has safeguards against harming the innocent.
    Pay no attention to the sheer number of people freed after DNA testing showed they weren't the suspect, and for sure pay no attention to the Department of Justice not willing to make sure those wrongly convicted people are made whole and that prosecutors who railroaded minority suspects to prison face actual justice.

    We are to busy prosecuting these terrorism cases the FBI has invented, whoever Hollywood tells us to crush, and do not have time to take on corporations who caused harm to millions... we need to send that 15 yr old with a joint to the joint FOR LIFE!

    I swear our government officials are starting to behave more like out of touch grandparents who forward you messages else the bad luck get them & spend the holidays telling you the Prince will be sending the millions just as soon as they get another mortgage to pay the taxes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Châu, 12 Apr 2017 @ 12:13am

    Over throw

    Hold innocent people in prison good idea, create more people want will help over throw that government.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JEDIDIAH, 12 Apr 2017 @ 9:46am

    Time to stuff the partisan genie back in the bottle.

    I can appreciate the significance of this problem, but the Trump haters really need to tone down the hysterics. They drown out the meaningful stuff. This is a reversal of a 2013 measure. That makes it a roll back to 2013, not 1950.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.