Forensic science has developed rapidly in recent years. Methods such as bite mark comparisons and hair analysis were seen as powerful tools before they were discredited and branded junk science.
Although these methods are linked to wrongful convictions and even executions, they are still used.
The recent announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists raises fears more innocent defendants will be convicted by junk science.
The partnership was meant to raise forensic science standards. Sessions has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony into several under-fire forensic techniques.
Instead, the Department of Justice will pursue new strategy led by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers.
At the end of March, Sessions said he would not renew the National Commission on Forensic Science. The commission is a panel made up of about 30 judges, scientists, crime lab professionals, prosecutors and defense lawyers. It was chartered by the Obama administration in 2013.
The announcement left a lot of unanswered questions, the Washington Post reported. The panel was working on new standards for reporting and examining forensic evidence in criminal courts nationwide. Now the Department of Justice is suspending work on setting uniform standards for forensic testimony.
The new direction is alarming because the panel uncovered major problems with some forensic techniques widely used to secure convictions.
Former President Barack Obama pushed changes to forensic science during his time in the White House.
Last September, a White House science panel asked for the court to further question whether four heavily used forensic techniques were admissible.
The techniques in question were:
1. Bullet techniques;
2. Bite mark;
3. Tire Marks;
4. Complex DNA samples.
The Justice Department announced a wider review of expert testimony in criminal cases. Forensic techniques are highly influential with juries even if they are junk science. Likewise, experts often sway juries.
The FBI Laboratory championed the tracing of crime-scene hairs based on microscopic examinations for decades as well as bullets based on chemical composition.
In 2015, The FBI and the Justice Department formally acknowledged almost every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit handed out flawed testimony in nearly all of the trials related to hair samples over more than 20 years before 2000.
As many as 32 defendants were sentenced to death. A report in the Washington Post said 14 of them were executed or lost their lives in prison.
Sessions’ recent announcement leaves many of these possible junk science techniques still in use in the courts and increases the risk of wrongful convictions.
If you have been charged with a serious offense you should hire an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney to fight back against junk science evidence. Call us today at (312) 229-0008.