Science & Technology Law

Attorney general will replace independent forensic science commission with in-house advisers

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Jeff Sessions

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Monday that he won’t renew an independent commission of scientists, judges and other advisers that had been formed during the Obama administration to provide advice on forensic science standards.

Sessions said he would replace the 30-member National Commission on Forensic Science with an in-house task force of law enforcement advisers, the Washington Post reports.

Sessions said he would appoint a senior forensic adviser in coming weeks. He also announced that the Justice Department will conduct a needs assessment of public crime laboratories that examines workload, backlog, personnel and equipment.

Two of the forensic science commission’s final recommendations “remain hanging” with the Justice Department, the Post article says. One proposal calls for written standards on examining and reporting forensic evidence in criminal courts. The other would more fully disclose statistical limits.

Last year, the Justice Department announced a review of testimony by experts after finding that FBI experts had overstated the validity of microscopic hair and chemical bullet evidence. Two Justice officials told the Post the review has been suspended while the internal task force reviews options.

Six scientists on the commission wrote a letter last week urging its renewal, according to the article. The letter said forensic decisions should be made with input from research scientists, and not just forensic practitioners.

Another commission member, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, said independence is important, according to the Post account. “It is unrealistic to expect that truly objective, scientifically sound standards for the use of forensic science … can be arrived at by entities centered solely within the Department of Justice,” he said.

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