Will Racke, DCNF
Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially ended the partnership Monday between the Department of Justice and a group of independent advisors tasked with recommending uniform forensic science standards nationwide.
Sessions will not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science, a panel of scientists, judges, crime lab managers and lawyers created by former President Barack Obama in 2013, he announced in a statement. Instead, the DOJ will appoint in the coming weeks a senior forensic advisor to “interface with forensic science stakeholders and advise department leadership.” He or she will examine the needs of overworked public crime laboratories and issue a report to Congress about potential ways to ease the backlog of cases they face, DOJ said.
“As we decide how to move forward, we bear in mind that the Department is just one piece of the larger criminal justice system and that the vast majority of forensic science is practiced by state and local forensic laboratories and is used by state and local prosecutors,” Sessions said in the statement.
The changes are part of a larger shifting of DOJ priorities under the so-called Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which has modified or reversed several criminal justice initiatives started by the Obama administration. Last week, Sessions announced that DOJ would review the use of consent decrees, negotiated by his predecessors, that implement stricter oversight of local police departments by the federal government.
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective policing,” Sessions said. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
The National Commission on Forensic Science was established by Obama to set uniform standards for forensic testimony, which has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years for widespread inaccuracy. The DOJ last year initiated a review of expert testimony after discovering that many FBI experts had given scientifically misleading accounts about two forensic techniques previously thought to be ironclad: tracing crime scene hairs and identifying bullets based on chemical composition.
The DOJ says that the commission’s expiration won’t have a negative impact on the department’s ability to “improve reliability of forensic analysis, and permit reporting of forensic results with greater specificity.”
“We applaud the professionalism of the National Commission on Forensic Science and look forward to building on the contributions it has made in this crucial field,” Sessions said.
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